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Jordan plays historic Asian Cup final

By Aline Bannayan - Feb 09,2024 - Last updated at Feb 09,2024

Jordan’s forward #11 Yazan Al Naimat kicks the ball past South Korea’s goalkeeper #21 Jo Hyeon-woo to score a goal during the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup semi-final football match between Jordan and South Korea at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha on Tuesday (AFP photo)

AMMAN — The 2023 Asian Cup comes to a close on Saturday, and Jordan is playing the final!

Not even the most optimistic of fans would have thought the Kingdom’s team will make it this far through after a rough, inconsistent preparation period.

Now, all eyes are on Jordan’s squad, dubbed “Al Nashama” as they face reigning Asian Cup champs and hosts Qatar on Saturday in the final match, hoping to be crowned the continent’s champs for the first time in history.

FIFA 87th ranked Jordan ousted two-time Asian champs, world’s 23rd ranked Korea 2-0 in the semifinals, while 58th ranked Qatar fought off three time champs 21st ranked Iran 3-2 to book a final spot.

Jordan has now played five times at the Asian Cup with their previous best past performance reaching the quarterfinals in 2004 and 2011.

Observers, ex-players and coaches point out to the leadership and tactics of Moroccan coach Hussein Amouta in steering Jordan through to the advanced position combined with the concerted effort of Jordan’s top stars which enabled the squad to steadily gain confidence in the event. Most players became household names overnight.

Jordan will have Salem Ajaleen and Ali Alwan, who missed the semis due to bookings, joins stars Mousa Ta’mari, Yazan Nue’imat, Yazan al-Arab and as well as goalie Yazeed Abu Laila in trying to write history for Jordan

In Round 1, the team finished 3rd in Group E after they lost 1-0 to Bahrain, tied  Korea 2-2, and scored a 4-0 win over Malaysia.  In the  Round of 16, Jordan came from 2-1 down to beat 2007 champs Iraq 3-2 in the final minutes of the match. The turning point came when they beat 103rd ranked Tajikistan 1-0 in the quarterfinals, and made it to the semis  for the first time in their fifth participation. 

Coach Amouta told a post-match press conference “It was a team effort. The determined efforts of players, improving match by match, and our steadfast aim to win and not to fear any opponents was vital in getting us here. Results depend on performance, ” Amouta said.

The coach, who took over the job in summer was criticised for his choice of lineup and winless results in friendlies. However, he seems to have a masterplan for for an advanced placement in regional and international competitions while striving to revamp the team and create a competitive lineup for the future. 

Assistant coach Abdullah Abu Zam’eh underlined the coach’s expertise which allowed the team “to become a competitive Asian team”.

“It was a tough journey, but the squad slowly gained confidence and believed that advanced positions can be achieved.” Abu Zam’eh added. “I’m lucky to be learning by working alongside someone like him,” Jordan’s U23 team coach added.

It is Jordan’s fifth time as the Asian Cup since  1972. In the 2004 edition, Jordan reached the quarterfinals and lost to Japan after tying 1-1, squandering a 3–1 lead in the penalties, before losing 3–4. Japan eventually went on to win the title and Jordan jumped to the best ever FIFA rank of 37th. Jordan also reached the quarterfinals in 2011 when they lost to Uzbekistan. 

In 2015, they exited the group stages and in 2019 they made it to the Round of 16 losing to Vietnam on penalties. The current edition was delayed from 2023 to 2024 taking into account the weather in the Arab Gulf region.

Japan is a record four time Asian Cup champions. Among Arab countries, Saudi Arabia won three times while, Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq won once each. Iran won three times, South Korea twice and Australia and Israel once. The latter was later expelled from the AFC in 1974 and joined UEFA. The champions will receive $5 million, the runners-up $3 million, and the losing semifinalists $1 million. All 24 participating teams will also receive $200,000.

Jordan’s results have boosted team confidence and fan morale as they also prepare to resume Group G qualifiers for the World Cup 2026. In two matches played in November 2023, Jordan held Tajikistan 1-1 and lost 2-0 to Saudi Arabia.

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