Doha: Jordan will make a slice of history when they face Son Heung-min’s South Korea in the Asian Cup on Tuesday while hosts and holders Qatar play Iran in the other semi-final.
On paper South Korea would be expected to beat a Jordan side who are the lowest-ranked team left in the tournament and in the last four for the first time.
But Jordan held South Korea 2-2 in the group phase, with Jurgen Klinsmann’s side salvaging a draw in injury time when Yazan Al-Arab deflected Hwang In-beom’s shot into his own net.
Under their admired Moroccan coach Hussein Ammouta, Jordan scored twice at the death to beat Iraq in the last 16 and then saw off fairytale debutants Tajikistan in the quarter-finals.
That put Jordan, who are 87th in the FIFA rankings and made their Asian Cup debut in 2004, into their first semi-final.
“Our eyes are now on the trophy,” defender Abdallah Nasib, whose second-half header deflected off Tajikistan defender Vahdat Hanonov for the only goal of the game, told AFP.
“What the Jordanian team has achieved confirms that nothing is impossible.”
Of the semi-finalists, Jordan are the only ones never to have won the Asian Cup.
Their opponents South Korea have lifted the trophy twice, but the last time was in 1960 and they are under big pressure at home to end that barren run.
They have not been convincing. Held by Jordan and Malaysia in the group phase, they beat Saudi Arabia in the last 16 on penalties and then needed some magic from Son to see off Australia in extra time.
As well as the enduring quality of skipper and Spurs star Son, Klinsmann’s side have also been reliant on a series of late goals to stay alive in Qatar.
South Korean media, who have no fondness for the German Klinsmann, have called it “zombie football”. Son says the team’s ability to keep coming back from the dead in games is proof of their resilience.
The Koreans will be missing Bayern Munich’s Kim Min-jae, a rock at the heart of their defence, because of suspension.
Iran close on fourth title
Qatar, who defeated Japan in the 2019 final, and Iran clash on Wednesday in the second semi-final.
Both sides won all three of their group games — the only teams to do so along with now-eliminated Iraq — and Iran then squeezed through on penalties against Syria, before beating Japan 2-1 in the last eight.
That victory on Saturday over the pre-tournament favourites, thanks to a stoppage-time penalty from Alireza Jahanbakhsh, has Iran dreaming of a first Asian title since 1976 and fourth overall.
They will welcome back prolific striker Mehdi Taremi after he was suspended for the Japan game.
“This match can be a turning point for Iranian football,” coach Amir Ghalenoei said following the victory over Japan.
“Not just for the senior national team, but also for the U23s, U19s and the whole football set-up.”
After romping through the group phase, Qatar defeated Palestine and then saw off Uzbekistan on penalties, their quarter-final having ended 1-1 after 120 minutes.
Qatar won the Asian Cup for the first time in 2019 and went into the game on a run of 11 straight wins in the competition.
Meshaal Barsham was the hosts’ hero in the penalty shootout, saving three times, and said: “Since the beginning our goal has been defending the title, but we’re not thinking about that now.
“It’s one match at a time. The atmosphere in the team is positive and this is what is making us united. We’re like a family.”