South Korea’s style of play at the Asian Cup, which had been christened ‘zombie football’ by their faithful back home, met a fateful end at the hands of Jordan on Tuesday.
It felt like Jordan’s 70,000 expatriate population in Qatar had descended into Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, creating a raucous atmosphere as the West Asian side made history to reach their first Asian Cup final.
The 2-0 win against highly-fancied South Korea in the semi-finals was a deserving one for Jordan, who according to their Moroccan coach Hussein Ammouta “delivered a heroic performance”.
After a goalless first half in which they outthought and outfought South Korea, ‘The Chivalrous Ones’ stormed into the Saturday’s title clash – with Iran or holders Qatar waiting for them – after Yazan al-Naimat and Musa al-Taamari struck in the second half,
South Korea, who had made a habit of coming from the dead after stoppage time goals against Saudi Arabia and Australia and hence dubbed as ‘zombie football’ by their fans, were completely outplayed on the night by a Jordan team ranked 64 places lower than them.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s men were left shell-shocked as the former German forward was left fuming. “I am disappointed, I am angry,” said Klinsmann. “We did not exist in the first 20-30 minutes.”
South Korea were gunning for their first Asian Cup title since 1960 but Jordan’s desire for a maiden continental showpiece trophy showed in their performance. It was a dominant display from start to finish from Jordan with South Korea having no answer to their determined rivals.
Taegeuk Warriors’ talisman Son Heung-min, who endured a frustrating night, encouraged his teammates not to give up after al-Naimat had put Jordan ahead in the 53rd minute. But when al-Taamari doubled the lead 13 minutes later, the Tottenham Hotspur star was in disbelief as the writing was very much on the wall for South Korea.
Son and his teammates had been in a losing position in four of their matches in Qatar, but there was no way back this time for them as they lacked the desire and energy of Jordan.
“It is very disappointing. I am devastated about this result. Jordan are having an amazing journey this tournament,” said Son. “They are incredible and they deserve it. They have been fighting until the end but, for us, it was very disappointing”
Into the last four for the first time, Jordan were missing central defender Salem al-Ajalin and forward Ali Olwan through suspensions. They also were without their record goalscorer Hamza al-Dardour, who had been sent home last week after a touchline altercation with Ammouta.
But Ammouta, who had spoken about the importance of getting his tactics right against South Korea, was given a passionate and brave performance from his men.
“The players delivered a heroic performance. The X-factor was we didn’t need to give South Korea more respect than needed,” said Ammouta after the match. “Based on their record in their last few games, they conceded goals and we knew it was possible to score against them and that was the turning point.”
Star forward al-Taamari, who started after having recovered from a minor knock in Jordan’s win over Tajikistan in the quarter-finals, was too hot to handle for South Korea along with al-Naimat.
“Actually I was dreaming about this tournament before when I was in France,” said the 26-year-old Tamari, who plays for Montpellier in France and was named man of the match.
“It means everything to me to be in the final and I hope we can do it in the final,” he added, having also set al-Naimat up for the first goal. “It’s also good to be in the final because it will make everyone speak about my country in France and this is very emotional for me.”
Jordan wasted no time asserting dominance, launching into a fast-paced attack that nearly caught their opponents off guard. In the fourth minute, al-Naimat’s swift strike from just inside the area forced goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo into a diving save.
Throughout the match, Jordan looked threatening whenever they transitioned into attack. Al-Taamari showcased his skill by manoeuvring past three defenders before setting up Noor al-Rawabdeh, who tested Jo with a strong shot.
While South Korea gradually found their rhythm, with Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in attempting shots, Jordan remained dangerous in their offensive plays. Despite several opportunities, including chances for al-Naimat and al-Tamari, they couldn’t convert.
In the dying moments of the first half, al-Naimat’s powerful drive was saved by Jo, and al-Rawabdeh’s follow-up attempt too was blocked by the South Korean goalkeeper. Although South Korea had their share of opportunities, notably a penalty call overturned by VAR and Lee Jae-Sung’s shot hitting the upright, they failed to capitalise. Jordan’s relentless pressure paid off early in the second half when al-Taamari took advantage of a defensive error to set up al-Naimat for the opening goal.
Despite South Korea’s efforts to equalise, Jordan extended their lead with another goal from al-Taamari. Klinsmann brought in Cho Gue-sung to bolster his attack, but South Korea couldn’t find a way back as Jordan held firmly to securing their place in the final.
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