One Game Away from Glory: Can Jordan Win the AFC Asian Cup?

Unbridled scenes of Jordanian jubilation have continually graced this year’s edition of the Asia Cup. Nobody could have possibly foreseen this team – still currently ranked 87th in the world – being within one victory away from their first ever international trophy. 


And while it’s easy to be simply jolted by the shock, you have to also credit the outstanding individual performances, the implementation of simple yet effective tactics, their relentless resolve. Jordan are in the final totally on merit. 



Their feat is made all the more curious when considering their run of six losses and one draw in their seven matches before the tournament. This, coupled with never having even advanced past the Asia Cup quarter finals before, did not instil many with the belief that Jordan were go particularly far in Qatar. 


A Memorable Run


After navigating through a tricky group alongside South Korea, Malaysia, and Bahrain, the pressure was on Jordan as they played the 2007 Asia Cup winners Iraq in the round of 16. In a controversial and tightly fought contest, Jordan came from behind and found two stoppage-time goals to win 3-2. In one of the most bizarre Asia Cup moments, Iraqi striker Aymen Hussein was shown a red card after giving his team the lead for over celebrating his goal, he sat down cross-legged and mimicked the Jordan players’ first half Jordanian mansaf-eating celebration which the referee deemed to be an incendiary action. 


While fortune favoured Jordan in that decision, they create more than enough chances to win the game comfortably, and proved to be great value for their victory. Next up, they faced fellow underdogs Tajikistan, who were competing in their maiden Asia Cup quarter final match. In a much more fraught and cagey affair of few clear chances, Jordan muscled their way through with the help of a Vakhdat Khanonov own goal which set up a rematch between themselves and South Korea. 



Perhaps the saddest indictment from a South Korean perspective is that, despite having one of Asia’s best ever players at their disposal, they were made to look entirely ordinary against Jordan. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is now the centre of various criticisms after his bowed out of the competition that they had once looked at as what could have been their first Asia Cup since 1960. 


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Iraq, Jordan’s round of 16 opponents, currently boast the claim of having the most shocking Asia Cup triumph. In 2007, led by Jorvan Viera, Iraq won the competition despite the insurmountable mitigating factors stacked against them; an ongoing US-led invasion, sectarian violence, recovery from Uday Hussein’s reign infamous torture regime of international footballers. 


Similar to Jordan, this run was punctuated with increasingly surprising victories which incrementally instilled belief in their players. A stunning 3-1 win over Graham Arnold’s Australia and a semi-final win over South Korea – creepily coincidental – gave Iraq supreme confidence to go on and beat Saudi Arabia in the final. 


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Moreover, Iraq went into the tournament with no major stars and far down on the list of favourites. In Jordan’s case, Muse Al-Taamari, currently playing for Montpellier and dubbed the ‘Jordanian Messi’ or ‘The New Mohamed Salah’ is their star. However, much of their squad still play in the Jordanian domestic league. 


A Defining Moment?


It’s with no exaggeration that Jordan’s match up against Qatar will be biggest match in their history. A win would be the apex accomplishment of not just Jordanian football, but it would inspire renewed optimism for the sport in the Levant region. Countries like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine have been deprived of footballing glory for so long, none have even reached a World Cup since 1986. 


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This is a phenomenon that has been worsened over time by geopolitical tensions, invasions and occupations which have engendered a ever-increasing feeling of hopelessness in the region. 


But it’s important not to play the stakes up too much. Not even your most optimistic Jordanian would have predicted their country being in this position before the tournament began and its unfair to put the pressure of an entire region’s sense of optimism on their shoulders because Jordan have truly won in so many ways before a ball has been kicked in the final. 


They have became many supporters second team in this run, overcame immense odds, and without even winning the final have ignited hope for a region of chronically underwhelmed football fans. 


By: Louis Young / @FrontPostPod

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / BSR Agency / Getty Images