Qatar to play in Asian Cup final after UAE protest dismissed

Qatar's forward Almoez Ali celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match between United Arab Emirates and Qatar at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Qatar has been cleared to play in Friday's Asian Cup final after a United Arab Emirates protest about possible ineligible players was rejected.

Less than three hours before the final, the Asian Football Confederation published the decision of its disciplinary panel without giving reasons.

Qatar will now play Japan for the title at 6 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The game is a high point for Qatar, the gas-rich emirate which will host the 2022 World Cup.

The UAE soccer federation can pursue appeals, potentially to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. However, that process in Switzerland would likely take several months to resolve.

The UAE, which lost to Qatar 4-0 in a politically charged semifinal match on Tuesday, had questioned whether Almoez Ali and Bassam Al-Rawi meet FIFA's nationality requirements.

Ali, with a tournament-leading eight goals, and Al-Rawi were both born outside Qatar but would be eligible if either had a parent or grandparent born in the emirate.

The UAE federation has reportedly questioned the authenticity of personal documents used to establish the players' right to represent Qatar.

The 21-year-old Al-Rawi, who also played for Qatar at FIFA's Under-21 World Cup in 2015, is the son of a former Iraq international. The 22-year-old Ali is widely listed to have been born in Sudan.

Both Ali and Al-Rawi are graduates of the state-of-the-art Aspire training academy in Doha, which has developed young talents. Many were born outside Qatar, which is a nation of about 330,000 citizens.

Since winning World Cup hosting rights in December 2010, Qatar has tried to find players to build a competitive team. Qatar never qualified for a World Cup and its FIFA ranking has fluctuated between No. 78 and No. 112 in the last decade.

Had the AFC's disciplinary panel sided with the Asian Cup host nation, the sanction would have been to overturn Qatar's 4-0 win as a 3-0 loss by forfeit and disqualification from the final.

Qatar has been the standout story of an Asian Cup, which has played against the backdrop of regional tension. Saudi Arabia and the UAE led a diplomatic and logistic boycott of the emirate 18 months ago.

At the same time, FIFA has been studying whether to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams. That plan would require Qatar to agree to share hosting with Middle East neighbors because its eight stadiums and other infrastructure could not cope with the extra games and teams.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who is expected to attend the game Friday, has pushed for the 48-team idea as a way of advancing peace in the region. A decision could be made by the FIFA Council at a March 14-15 meeting in Miami.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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