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Magic of the Cup: Afif Trickery Crushes Jordan’s Fairytale

Jordan may have fallen at the last hurdle against Qatar in the final of the Asia Cup, but their efforts have illuminated a country surrounded by turmoil.

Despite four goals being scored, fans in the Lusail Stadium witnessed a typically cagey final. Pass accuracies of 60 and 70 per cent for Qatar and Jordan respectively are symptomatic of nervous performances; for context, the team with the lowest pass accuracy percentage in the Premier League is Sheffield United, with 72 per cent. Against the odds, Jordan enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and registered twice as many shots as Qatar, but it was ultimately penalties that decided their fate. After being brought down in the box, player of the match Akram Afif dispatched the first penalty and performed a card trick in a strange but captivating celebration. A comeback seemed on the cards when Jordan’s Yazan Al-Naimat smashed home an equaliser in the 67th minute. Just six minutes later, however, Qatar were awarded another penalty after a clumsy tackle from left-back Mahmoud Al-Mardi. Afif’s second penalty was no different, opting for the same side and attempting the same celebration, though this time his fumbled execution failed to capture the imagination. Urged on by the crowd, Jordan pushed on in search of an equaliser, leaving themselves exposed at the back and ultimately conceding a third penalty. Again, it was Afif with the honours, burying his third with the same composure as the first and ditching his trick for a more chaotic embrace with the fans. This performance put Afif at the top of the goalscoring charts with eight and, to no one’s surprise, he was awarded the MVP Award for the competition. Jordan will consider themselves unlucky in that all three of Qatar’s goals were penalties, particularly considering their performance across the 90 minutes, but perhaps rash decisions are to be expected of a team with such inexperience on the big stage.

Whilst Qatar may have been crowned champions, Jordan’s story has captured the imagination of a region in need of lifting. Having never been to the World Cup or advanced beyond the quarter-final of the Asia Cup, expectations were understandably low going into the competition. Although they didn’t pick up any silverware, the team has earned the nickname “Nashama”, a Jordanian term which reflects their bravery and determination. Their spirit was epitomised with the 3-2 victory against Iraq, where two goals at the death helped them advance into the knockout stages.

The Asia Cup couldn’t have come at a better time for Jordan, as the volatility of their surroundings in the Middle East has increased in recent months with the conflict in Gaza. Bordering Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel, violence has had a disastrous impact on tourism in a country with an already high unemployment rate. A recent drone strike which targeted a base in Jordan killed three US soldiers, which has only added to tensions. For a country whose favourite sport is football, Jordan’s historic journey to the final has lifted the spirits of its people and has, at least for a few weeks, put the doom and gloom of politics to the side.

Image: Unsplash

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