Even in a competition with such a rich history of upsets, few could ever have imagined that come Sunday afternoon a nation ranked 74th in the world, who have never been to the World Cup, who had never been further than the quarterfinals in a competition they first qualified for in 2004, might find themselves 90 minutes away from glory. In the stadium where Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi did battle 14 months ago it will be a clash between Musa Al-Taamari and Akram Afif to win the Asian Cup.
Though the defending champions, Qatar, were not ranked among the top tier of favorites going into a tournament on home soil, their journey back to the Lusail Stadium was hardly beyond the realms of imagination. That is exactly what many would have said about Jordan, however, before a ball had been kicked.
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With Al-Taamari the only player to ply his football in Europe, head coach Hussein Ammouta was hardly overburdened with star power. Almost half of the $15 million value Transfermarkt places on Jordan comes from the Montpellier playmaker. Certainly there were cheaper squads in the field, but the likes of South Korea blew them out of the water in financial terms. Not a penny of that shone through on the field, however, with Jurgen Klinsmann’s side taking a cavalcade of fairly ordinary shots in their group stage meeting, one where the Koreans needed an added time own goal from Yassan Abu Al-Arab to earn a point.
By the time those two sides met again, Jordanian belief had swelled. Goals in the 95th and 97th minutes snatched a spot in the quarterfinals from Iraq but it was in the quarterfinal win over Tajikistan that Ammouta really set out his stall, his back five holding the tournament debutants to just two shots on target.
They would go even better when rematched with South Korea, who failed to test Yazeed Abulaila once in a comprehensive defensive display that started at the top of the pitch, where Yazan Al-Naimat and Al-Taamari got goals that showed the value of pressing as units. “The tactical discipline instilled by our head coach was crucial,” said Al-Taamari. “He instilled confidence in us to not respect our opponents too much, while denying them space to attack. Our spirit, patience, and most importantly the fans, who supported us from start to finish played a significant role in our success. On the pitch, we were one team and off the pitch, we are one family.”
Jordan are underdogs against the 2019 champions but not by anything like the margin they were on Tuesday night. After all The Chivalrous began their preparations for the tournament with a win over their hosts in Doha only last month.
“Qatar are defending champions and playing at home, making them formidable opponents,” said Ammouta. “It’s not easy to play against them. It’s not easy to achieve what they have done. We played a friendly match and it was challenging to secure the win against Qatar. Despite anticipating difficulty, we are all united in aiming to cross the finish line successfully. We aim to exceed expectations.”
They already have done so. Beating the hosts and holders on home turf would merely be repeat heroics from this unlikely contender.