Asian Cup: Jordan eyes history in final against Qatar
The Asian Cup that has produced late goals and surprises hits its climax on Saturday as Jordan face Qatar looking to make history.
The 88,000-capacity Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Messi’s Argentina beat France in the World Cup final 14 months ago, will stage the final act of four weeks of Asian football.
Few would have predicted it would come down to a decider between a Qatar side who swapped coaches one month before the Asian Cup and a Jordan team ranked 87 in the world.
Pre-tournament favourites Japan were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Iran, who then went down in a 3-2 semi-final thriller to Qatar on Wednesday.
In a competition raining late goals, it should have been little surprise that Qatar’s winner came eight minutes from time when Almoez Ali turned in to break Iranian hearts.
“I’m very happy for Qatar, the people of Qatar, the fans and the players,” said coach Tintin Marquez, the Spaniard who was spirited in to replace Carlos Queiroz less than four weeks before the competition.
“The match was very complex but we played a big game, the players didn’t spare any effort. Now we have one final step left to defend our title.”
They have been keen to avoid the topic, but winning the Asian Cup for a second time and retaining their crown will exorcise the demons of Qatar’s World Cup flop.
Their three defeats when they staged the World Cup in 2022 was the worst record of any host in the competition’s history.
In 27-year-old striker Akram Afif, Qatar have one of the players of the tournament and he scored a glorious goal against Iran to take his tally to five in six games.Qatar would be the fifth team to win back-to-back Asian Cups.
With much of the crowd behind them and as reigning champions, Qatar will be expected to beat a Jordan side ranked 29 places below them by FIFA.
But under their widely admired Moroccan coach Hussein Ammouta, Jordan have repeatedly proved the doubters wrong.
They held South Korea 2-2 in the group phase, then scored twice in second-half injury time to storm back and dump Iraq out 3-2 in the last 16.
They ended the fairytale run of tournament debutants Tajikistan 1-0 in the quarter-finals, before handing out a lesson to South Korea in Jordan’s first Asian Cup semi-final.