(Reuters) - Qatar and Jordan will play an all-Arab Asian Cup final on Saturday where both teams are highly motivated to answer critics who gave them no chance of going so far.
Surprise package Jordan finished third in their group and scraped through to the knockouts, where they suddenly elevated their game to knock out heavyweights Iraq and South Korea.
That was a triumph for their Moroccan coach Hussein Ammouta, who was heavily criticised when they finished 2023 without a win in seven games, which included six losses.
"I'm very satisfied with our achievement because it was a personal challenge," Ammouta told reporters ahead of Saturday's final at Lusail Stadium.
"When a team loses the coach is blamed and when they win they say it's because of team morale. We prepare with all aspects in mind - physical, mental, tactical and psychological.
"I hope we'll be ready when the first whistle blows and we'll respond to the critics, 99% of the time I don't listen to them since I don't find anything useful."
While Jordan will play with nothing to lose in their first final, hosts Qatar are the defending champions after winning their maiden title in 2019.
Qatar disappointed fans when they lost all their World Cup group games in 2022, but they turned things around in the Asian Cup, scoring in every game en route to the final, including a thrilling 3-2 semi-final win over higher-ranked Iran.
"I'm very proud to be a part of this squad ... A month before the tournament no one expected us to reach the final, no one thought we could deliver these performances," Qatar skipper Hassan Al-Haydos said.
"Working together with the coach, technical staff and the Qatar Football Association, we were able to reach this level because of the squad's unity."
The two coaches warmly embraced in front of the gleaming silver trophy that weighs 15 kg. But Qatar coach Marquez Lopez, who took charge in December, said all brotherly love between the two Arab nations would be forgotten at kickoff.
"It's a match between two brotherly countries but there should be competition between brothers, each of us would like to win. We know the ties between both countries are very strong but at the end we will compete hard in this game," Lopez said.
"We've had obstacles before this, it wasn't an easy journey. However, we are here now but we haven't achieved it yet.
"In Spain, there's a saying. Second place is first among losers. We're not satisfied with second, we will play for the trophy. We want to be the best in the continent."