When Hussein Ammouta was appointed as Jordan coach midway through last year, no one expected the Moroccan to take Al Nashama to their maiden Asian Cup final. The early signs were not promising either. The West Asian side – who have before gone past the quarter-final of the continent’s marquee tournament –had lost at home to Saudi Arabia in their World Cup qualification group, before only managing a draw against Tajikistan in November.
In the friendlies before Asian Cup Jordan were thrashed 6-1 by Japan, and even lost to Lebanon. However, they had beaten Qatar 2-1 and now the teams face each other in the Asian Cup final at the Lusail Stadium on Saturday.
Jordan finished third in their group and scraped through to the knockouts, but emerged stronger with each passing match at Qatar 2023 to knock out heavyweights Iraq and South Korea. That was a triumph for Ammouta, who was heavily criticised when they finished 2023 without a win in seven games, which included six losses.
Now Ammouta is one match away from leading Jordan to a maiden Asian Cup title and if he does, it will be the crowning glory for an individual who has spent the better part of his career - as a player and a coach - in Asia.
Mousa al-Tamari, following the stunning 2-0 win over South Korea in the semi-finals, paid tribute to Ammouta’s ability to galvanise his players. “I must credit our coach, who emphasised the importance of enjoying ourselves. He instilled a winning mentality in us. “The tactical discipline instilled by our head coach was crucial. He instilled confidence in us to not respect our opponents too much, while denying them space to attack,” said al-Tamari.
But it was not just the South Korea match in which Jordan impressed in as they started their campaign with a resounding 4-0 win over Malaysia in Group E.
The southeast Asian side had no answer to Ammouta’s tactics, and the same applied to South Korea when the two sides met in the group stage.
Jordan were seconds away from winning the tie, with an own goal helping Korea salvage a point. Their concluding group fixture ended in a 1-0 defeat to Bahrain but that came after a spot in the Round of 16 had already been sealed.
The knockout stage is where Jordan really served notice that they were the real deal, with Ammouta pushing his players all the way as they edged Iraq 3-2 while a controlled performance resulted in a 1-0 defeat of Tajikistan in the quarter-finals.
Against South Korea, Jordan produced yet another side to their game - going on the attack from the first blow of the whistle to leave Son Heung-min and his teammates gasping. Ammouta, again, showed his tactical acumen by admitting that the decision to go on the offensive was decided after carefully analysing Korea.
“We agreed to start strongly, capitalising on the fact that South Korea had conceded eight goals in five matches. It was crucial to utilise our attacking abilities and seize the initiative to attack. We knew that our opponents would strike back, hence the focus remained on aggressive defensive tactics. However, it was our proactive approach and emphasis on attacking play that made us the more effective team. We displayed the mindset of champions, showing resilience and determination in every aspect of the game,” said the 54-year-old Moroccan.
Having steered Jordan into a first ever Asian Cup final, expectations have soared of them going all the way but irrespective of what happens on Saturday, Ammouta’s place in Asian football history is assured.
Jordan’s coach Hussein Ammouta speaks to his players on Friday. (Reuters)