By Harry Ewing in Doha
January 29 – The most pulse-raising, heartbreaking and inspiring match at the Asian Cup this year, Jordan netted twice in added time to snatch victory from 10-man Iraq, sending the Khalifa Stadium in Doha into absolute bedlam.
Heading into the knockout tie, Iraq came off the back of a fearsome run in the group stage, collecting nine points from a high-quality group that also contained tournament favourites Japan. But despite the side’s undeniably destructive goalscoring ability, their defence was yet to keep a clean sheet in the tournament.
In comparison, Jordan enjoyed a comfortable opener versus Malaysia, scoring four goals upon their reintroduction to the tournament and carrying that form into an impressive 2-2 draw with South Korea. A disappointing loss to Bahrain sealed their third place finish in Group E, but was enough to see them progress to the knockouts.
Iraq were understandably favourites with coach Jesus Casas returning his side to its familiar setup after opting to rest his key starters during the final group game. Goalscoring threat Ayman Hussein was back in the starting line up having grabbed five goals in the group stages, more than any other player, as Casas looked to put all the pressure on Jordan’s back three. Overall, the Spaniard only kept experienced duo Rebin Sulaka and Osama Rashid from Iraq’s 3-2 thriller versus Vietnam, as familiar faces returned to the side that put Japan to the sword.
Meanwhile, Jordan fielded a similar lineup to the team that lost to Bahrain last week, including an identical attacking line that was goalless versus the group leaders.
Both managers intended to play their own game, as both formations remained unchanged from the group stage. Jordan employed an identical 3-4-2-1 whilst Iraq similarly utilised the all-too-familiar and equally dangerous 4-2-3-1.
The atmosphere inside the ground was electric, as Iraq dominated the volume tug-of-war in the stands. Boos rung out every time a Jordan player approached the ball as Iraq’s twelfth man looked to take the game into their own hands.
Jordan’s game plan relied on long passes to dissect the opposition defence, which the ageing Iraqi defenders struggled with in a mismatch with Jordan’s attacking youth.
In his first act of defensive duty, Abdullah Nasib entered the book in the 13th minute – reflecting the aggression of the game in its early stages.
Iraq escaped an early scare as goalkeeper Jalal Hassan marauded outside his box to head away one of the Jordanian long balls, which were becoming increasingly dangerous as they grew into the game. The header fell to the feet of Jordan’s Ali Iyad Olwan, and shaved the edge of the post as the striker shot ag an empty net from long range.
Hassan was forced into action again immediately after, saving a powerful shot into the bottom left corner which helped the Jordanian fans to briefly re-find their voice.
Jordan played with composure and elegance as Iraq struggled to find their foothold in the game’s opening half hour.
Enjoying his team’s unexpected dominance, Jordan’s Musa Al-Taamari had a claim for a penalty turned down after a mazy run through a massed Iraqi defensive unit.
Jordan eventually had the first half lead they deserved with a breakaway goal in added time. Yazan Al-Naimat intercepted a tame pass and used his pace to drive between the sluggish Iraqi defenders, selling Jalal Hassan with a fake shot and calmly lobbing the keeper to send the ball into an empty net. The Jordanians were good value for their lead.
Iraq looked to quickly make amends for their lacklustre first half, visibly showing more desire as they were roared on from the stands.
Searching for an equaliser, former Manchester United youngster Zidane Iqbal entered the action alongside Merchas Doski in like-for-like changes from Casas. Fan favourite Mohanad Ali joined minutes later, replacing midfielder Rashid and switching the formation to 4-4-2.
Iraq equalised on 68 minutes with a cushioned header from Suad Natiq that nestled into the bottom left corner. The goal stirred the game- and crowd- into a frenzy.
Eight minutes later, Hussein reminded the Jordanians why he’s the tournament’s premier goalscorer with a driven shot into the bottom right corner. In a matter of minutes, the game had been given a completely new complexion.
Undoing his impressive effort on goal, the player was sent off his celebration. His jump into the stands was met with a second yellow card.
Reduced to 10 men and without their figurehead up front, Iraq struggled to distribute the ball into attacking areas and allowing Jordan to enter their best spell of the second half and regain control of the game.
With the game five minutes deep into added time, Yazan Al-Arab rescued Jordan with a goal that made the Khalifa International Stadium again explode with noise, capitalising on a spill from Hassan for an easy finish.
With extra time beckoning the drama wasn’t over. In the eighth minute of added time Nizar Al Rashdan picked up the ball on the edge of the box and fired in a thumping long range shot. It was virtually the last kick of the game and it sent his team through to the quarter finals.
The finish silenced the ferocious Iraqi crowd who rapidly emptied the stadium with a speed that was likely a record of its own.
Jordan face now face a quarter final against Asian Cup debutants Tajikistan later this week.
Contact the writer of this story, Harry Ewing, at email@example.com