A team that refuses to die will clash against a team that is determined to make history. South Korea and Jordan will lock horns in the Asian Cup semi-final on Tuesday at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, aiming to take one step closer to that elusive title.
For the first time semi-finalist Jordan, who have been the surprise element of the tournament, it’s a chance to write history. For South Korea, it’s time to banish the bitter memories of six decades of pain of not winning the Asian crown jewel. Without an iota of doubt it will be Jurgen Klinsmann’s men, who will be under immense pressure against the lowest-ranked team left in the competition Jordan, who have risen to the occasion under Hussein Ammouta. South Korea, despite carrying a team with proven stars in the European leagues led by captain Son Heung-min, have failed to fire so far.
They finished second behind Jordan in the group stage, and had to stage late fightbacks to win against fellow Asian powers Saudi Arabia and Australia in the knockout matches, which has been dubbed “zombie football” by their fans for the way they keep coming back from the dead.
It’s a moniker coach Klinsmann is happy with, but the former German forward will be hoping that his players can win the match inside 90 minutes and seal a spot in the final for the first time since 2015. On Monday, Klinsmann – who has faced severe criticism from the South Korean media and fans – said his team is determined to prove the doubters wrong and urged them to ‘relax’ in Tuesday’s semi-final.
“We are very excited for this semi-final match, a huge compliment to Jordan. We emerged from the same group, which only highlights our strong team dynamics. However, our hunger for success drives us to go further. We are fit, optimistic and eagerly looking forward to advancing all the way to the final. The mood within the team is very positive,” said Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup as a player for Germany.
“The team needs to stay relaxed, focus on the upcoming challenge and eliminate distractions that are not important right now. I believe this group of players are experienced and our goal is to reach the final and we are entering the match against a very strong Jordan team fully prepared to play 120 minutes and even face a penalty shootout if needed,” added the 59-year-old.
South Korea and Jordan drew 2-2 in the group phase with the Koreans salvaging a point with an injury-time own goal. On Tuesday, the Taeguk Warriors will be favourites to beat Jordan and reach Saturday’s final, with Iran or holders Qatar awaiting them.
Klinsmann believes that his team has matured throughout the tournament. “The expectations and pressure at the beginning are always challenging for every nation but as things progress, you build confidence, and now, being in the last-four, it boosts that confidence. Similar to how Argentina overcame their defeat against Saudi Arabia in their 2022 FIFA World Cup opener, they faced pressure in their subsequent game against Mexico.
“Once you get the first couple of games out of the way and the confidence builds after navigating through all the challenging matches, having the whole nation behind you becomes a positive factor. A team needs plenty of mental strength to play in a tournament and you have to be prepared for the marathon. Now, we just have to finish strong and secure that gold.”
South Korea’s bid for second final in three editions, however, will have to be attained without Kim Min-jae, with the Bayern Munich centre-back suspended for the semi-final. Jordan will miss key players too with Ali Olwan and Salem al-Ajalin ruled out of the semi-final through suspension.
However, Ammouta sounded upbeat about his team’s chances against South Korean and is confident he has enough quality in his squad to compensate for the absence of the suspended players. “It’s going to be a very challenging match for both teams. It will be tough for us as we will be missing two key players. This match will be more difficult than the ones we had in the group stage. But we are placing plenty of emphasis on our preparation,” said the 54-year-old Ammouta.
The Jordan coach believes he has to get his tactics right to strengthen his team’s chances of advancing into the final.
“Everyone in this competition is mentally prepared, and that’s why we have to focus on improving the tactical aspects of our game. We need to make improvements when playing at this stage of the tournament and the tactical aspects should be well covered. Making tactical decisions involves avoiding or pressuring strong teams and ensuring that every player gets what they deserve. Each team needs thorough preparation, both mentally and physically, to endure playing for 120 minutes.”
Ammouta said his side they must be prepared to fight to the end given their opponents’ ability to stay alive in matches. “The focus has to be big, it is going to be tiring,” said the Moroccan, whose team beat debutants Tajikistan 1-0 in the quarter-finals to reach the semi-finals for the first time. “We have to struggle and fight until the very last minutes.”