Jordan’s dream run and Iran’s comeback: Asian Cup semi-finals preview

The Asian Cup semi-finals are set to feature some of the best asian football players in action, as Jordan, South Korea, Qatar and Iran battle for a spot in the final.

Jordan have been the surprise package of the tournament, reaching the last four for the first time in their history. They held South Korea to a 2-2 draw in the group stage, thanks to a late own goal by Yazan Al-Arab. They then knocked out Iraq and Tajikistan with dramatic late goals in the knockout rounds.

Jordan, who are ranked 87th in the world and debuted in the Asian Cup in 2004, are the only semi-finalists who have never won the trophy. They are led by their Moroccan coach Hussein Ammouta, who has instilled a fighting spirit and a belief in his players.

“Our eyes are now on the trophy,” said defender Abdallah Nasib, who scored the winner against Tajikistan. “What the Jordanian team has achieved confirms that nothing is impossible.”

They will face South Korea, who are aiming to end their 64-year drought of Asian Cup glory. The Koreans have won the title twice, but the last time was in 1960. They are under huge pressure from their fans and media to deliver.

However, they have not been convincing so far. They were held by Jordan and Malaysia in the group stage, and needed penalties to beat Saudi Arabia and extra time to beat Australia in the knockout rounds. They have also relied on a series of late goals to stay alive, earning them the nickname of “zombie football” by the South Korean press.

Their star player and captain is Son Heung-min, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League. He joined the team after the group stage, and has scored two goals and provided two assists. He says the team’s resilience is their strength.

“We never give up until the end,” he said. “We always believe in ourselves and our teammates.”

South Korea will be without their key defender Kim Min-jae, who is suspended for the semi-final. He plays for Bayern Munich in Germany, and has been a solid presence at the back.

The other semi-final will see Qatar face Iran, in a clash of two teams who have been impressive throughout the tournament. Both teams won all their group games, and are the only ones to do so along with Iraq, who were eliminated by Qatar.

Qatar are the defending champions, having won the Asian Cup for the first time in 2019. They have continued their winning streak, extending it to 11 games in the competition. They beat Palestine and Uzbekistan on penalties, after drawing 1-1 in both games.

Qatar’s goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham was the hero in the shootout against Uzbekistan, saving three penalties. He said the team’s goal is to retain the title, but they are taking it one game at a time.

“The atmosphere in the team is positive and this is what is making us united. We’re like a family,” he said.

Iran are looking to end their 48-year wait for a fourth Asian Cup title, having last won it in 1976. They have shown their quality and character, beating Syria on penalties and Japan 2-1 in the knockout rounds.

Iran’s victory over Japan, who were the favourites and the most successful team in Asian Cup history with four titles, was a statement of intent. They scored a late penalty through Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who plays for Brighton and Hove Albion in the English Premier League.

Iran’s coach Amir Ghalenoei said the win over Japan could be a turning point for Iranian football, not just for the senior team, but also for the youth teams.

He will have his star striker Mehdi Taremi back from suspension for the semi-final. Taremi plays for Porto in Portugal, and has scored three goals in the tournament.

The semi-finals will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the final on Saturday. The four teams will be hoping to make history and lift the Asian Cup trophy.

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