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In international football the teams that handle pressure well are the most successful.

Playing at the FIFA World Cup for the first time, as host nation no less, Qatar felt that pressure more than most.

The level of expectation after 12 long years of preparation was intense, and in that moment, with the international glare firmly fixed in their direction, they succumbed.

Reputations were bruised and careers ended by the failure to deal with that scrutiny.

Qatar came out of the experience with its international reputation sullied, as did many of its star players who failed to deliver when it mattered most.

As chastening as that experience was, however, it also provided an enormous opportunity for growth. As the cliche goes, you either win or you learn, and Qatar learned plenty.

They have played in AFC Asian Cups, even the Gold Cup and the Copa America, but there is nothing quite as intense as the FIFA World Cup. For many players, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As they moved into a post-World Cup era, and into this Asian Cup especially, they had a choice to either let the World Cup experience define them, or learn from it and rebuild.

Qatar, and in particular its midfield talisman, Akram Afif, chose the latter.

“Every tournament that we play, we learn a lot from,” Afif said after their semifinal victory over Iran.

“The World Cup was our first time. Yes we hosted it but frankly that was difficult. Now the Asian Cup is the second tournament we’ve played at home and now we have that experience and we’re showing that we can improve with every passing tournament.”

Although Carlos Queiroz’s departure on the eve of the tournament only added to the perception of this being a team in a tailspin, it was perhaps a blessing in disguise, according to captain Hassan Al-Haydos.

“If I had asked you a month ago if we would reach the final, you’d have said that’s a dream,” he said on Al-Kass after the game.

“I have to be honest, we had gotten used to the Spanish school of coaching. The friendly tournament in Jordan was like a warning for us, that things were not working out. After Marquez took over, everyone came together and we have been enjoying a positive atmosphere.

“We got back our rhythm, our desire and our fighting spirit.”

While they came through a soft group stage draw, featuring debutants, Tajikistan, as well as Lebanon and a very disappointing China, what it afforded them was the opportunity to build confidence and momentum before hitting the knockout rounds.

Right from the opening night in front of more than 80,000 at Lusail Stadium, the site of this weekend’s final against Jordan, this looked like a different Qatari side to the one which had trundled off the pitch at Al-Bayt Stadium after their third straight defeat against the Netherlands.

There was a renewed confidence and freedom in their play, like they had been unshackled from their past.

Yusuf Abdurisag, part of a new generation that did not play in the World Cup, impressed in attack. Youngsters Mostafa Meshaal and Jassem Gaber were given opportunities to impress, and Afif looked like the Afif of old.

They were still a long way short of the form that took them all the way to the title in 2019, but it was a marked improvement on anything we had seen in the previous 18 months.

What has been evident throughout this Asian Cup, however, is that while they may not be at that level of 2019, this team has a resilience that we have not often associated with Qatari teams of the past.

Maybe it is just learning from experience, but throughout this tournament when they are not playing at their best, or luck goes against them, rather than folding like a house of cards — as we have seen happen in the past — this team digs in and finds a way to win.

Never was that more evident than in the semifinal against Iran.

Conceding so early could have easily knocked Al-Annabi out of their rhythm, but instead they found a way to equalize shortly after, before taking the lead just before half time.

A harsh penalty call against them early in the second half saw Iran draw level, but again Qatar found a way to get ahead, and then clung on under a bombardment on their goal from Iran in the final 20 minutes.

“Everyone saw in this tournament that our level is not the same as that of 2019,” Al-Haydos, the team’s leader, continued.

“But what has made the difference is the fighting spirit we show on the pitch. We just want to make the fans proud of us.”

Restoring their reputation will take time, and this Asian Cup, whether they win or not, has gone a long way to doing just that.

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