Jordan ‘epic drama’, Iraq ‘crushed’…join quarterfinals

Two goals in two minutes of second-half stoppage time – dramatic underdog comebacks are heating up the Asian Cup. Klinsmann’s men halted Iraq’s winning streak with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the Round of 16 to join them in the quarterfinals. Iraq, who caused a stir by knocking out heavy favorites Japan in the group stage, fought back from a goal down in the first half to see their winning streak halted by two goals in two minutes of stoppage time.

Jordan took the lead through Yazan Al-Naimat in first-half stoppage time (45+1 mins) but conceded goals from Iraq’s Saad Natik in the 23rd minute and Aymen Hussein in the 31st minute to fall to 1-2 in their round of 16 match against Iraq at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Qatar 2023 at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar at 8:30 p.m. on Monday.

After being forced to lock down too early to protect their lead, Jordan pulled off a late stoppage-time miracle. Two minutes after Yazan Alarab’s 2-2 equalizer in the 90+5th minute with seven minutes of stoppage time, Nizar Al Nashdan’s thrilling 90+7th minute winner completed the 3-2 reverse drama.

Having reached the quarterfinals in 2004 and 2011, Jordan can now look even higher as they plant their flag on the quarterfinal hill for the third time in their history. Jordan will face Tajikistan on February 2 for a place in the quarterfinals after the miraculous upset in the first two round of 16 matches. Tajikistan, a Central Asian “backwater” in its first-ever appearance at the World Cup, has made history by reaching the round of 16 and then the quarterfinals for the first time in its history, and is being hailed as the hero of the underdog revolt.

Aymen Hussein appeared to revive Iraq’s stuttering winning streak, but ended up being a bit of a drug dealer. Hussein scored his sixth goal of the tournament to make it 2-1 in the 31st minute, but he was sent off for a yellow card for a goal celebration, leaving the hosts outnumbered and outclassed.

Goalkeeper Aymen Hussein waited for a cross from the left to rebound off a Jordanian defender’s head and into the back of the net, then rattled the opposition net with a diagonal right-footed shot for his sixth goal of the tournament. Hussein, the tournament’s top individual scorer, was cautioned by the referee after the goal for a gesture that appeared to be eating with his hands as he sat on the ground, accumulating two cautions before being sent off.

Jordan, who finished in Group E, advanced to the round of 16 by finishing third in the group (W1 D1 L4) after a hard-fought 2-2 draw with South Korea in a match that saw the teams share an own goal. Iraq pulled off an upset in Group D with a 2-1 victory over ‘favorites’ Japan to finish top of the group with three wins from three matches, and were expected to advance to the round of 16 ahead of Jordan.

However, when the lid was lifted, the first half of the match played out differently than expected. Led by the attacking trio of Al-Naimat, Altamari, and Olwan, Jordan lost the overall ball possession in the first half, but held a 7-6 advantage in shots and a 3-1 advantage in shots on goal, and even scored the game-winning goal in first-half stoppage time.

The striker, who scored in the second group game against South Korea, dribbled through the Iraqi defense on a solo run from the halfway line in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. After outrunning Iraqi defenders into the penalty box, Al-Naimat rattled the net with a curling shot that sailed just over the head of a leaping Iraqi goalkeeper Hassan to seal the win for the Blue.

The Iraqi fightback was fierce at the start of the second half. Jordan’s decision to lock down too early to protect their one-goal lead proved to be the catalyst for the Iraqi offense. Spurred on by the offense, Iraq tied the game at 1-1 in the 23rd minute when Saad Natik rattled the Jordanian net with a header from Ali Jassim’s left corner kick.

Iraq was riding high enough to top Group D ahead of Japan, which was considered the favorite to win the tournament, but was unable to extend its winning streak as Jordan’s strong physicality took over. Iraq, ranked 63rd in the FIFA rankings, ahead of 87th-ranked Jordan, and with three wins, one draw, and one loss in their last five games, were expected to win the match and reach the quarterfinals, but they fell victim to the ‘underdog revolt’. Iraq had dominated the head-to-head record before the match, winning 46 games, drawing 24 and losing 13.

In the match, Jordan was out-shot 43%-57%, but managed to pull off the upset by outshooting Iraq 18-14 overall, 8-5 in shots on goal and 3-1 in shots on target. They also held a 6-4 advantage in shots in the box.

With the win, Jordan joins Australia and Tajikistan as the third teams to reach the quarterfinals of the 2023 Asian Cup.

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