After two days of rest, the Asian Cup came back in full power with some great knockout games.
On Sunday afternoon, Jordan played Vietnam in the first game of the day. The Neshameh arrived to the match with huge expectations, after a tremendous group stage with 7 points, and looked to justify the ‘black horse’ reputation that they have earned, rightfully, in the tournament.
It started well. Belgian coach Vital Borkelmans has put his best players on attack, and Jordan looked threatening, while the opponents from Vietnam looked shaky and vulnerable. Yet, Nguyen Quang Hai and his teammates have tested goalkeeper Amer Shafi few times.
Baha Abdel-Rahman has lightened up the match with a tremendous free kick in the 38th minute from the left side straight to the upper right of the goal, just underneath the crossbar — a spectacular 1-0 to the Hashemite.
When it looked like Jordan will easily go pass by the South East Asian champions, the second half came and it was a completely different Vietnam. With a series of counter-attacks the Golden Dragons have found the Jordanian defence unprepared, and Nguyen Cong Phuong stroke a half volley from inside the box and made it 1-1.
From this moment Vital Borkelmans somehow decided to go backwards, and minute after minute has taken out his attacking players, changing his formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-5-1 with a lone striker, what almost finished the Jordanian’s attacking play. One after the other, all of Jordan’s best attackers left the field. Musa Al-Taamari, Yassin Bakhit, Saeed Murjan and Youssef Al-Rawashdeh.
This form of play made Jordan stay defensive, and Vietnam has started to go forward. The match went out for extra-time, then to penalty shootouts.
Vietnam opened the session and scored, while again Abdulrahman has found the net to equalise. Hung Dung made it 2-1, and then Jordan missed twice through Baha Faisal and Ahmed Samir. At this stage it was almost over, Shafi made one save, but when But Thin Dung scored it was all over.
Jordan has now been eliminated from all three of their Asian Cup knockout matches, with two of those eliminations coming via penalties.
Regardless of the early elimination, Borkelmans’ Jordan had a great tournament. After years of instability in the managerial position, it seems that the least football famous country in Al-Sham is on the right track if they are to keep this progress.
The second match of the day saw Iran play Oman at Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Three minutes into the game Oman has won a penalty. The faces of the Iranian players were shocked, but luckily for them, they have a goalkeeper named Alireza Beiranvand. The Persepolis’ number one, who stopped a Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty in the past summer’s World Cup, has stretched to the right and saved also the penalty of Ahmed Kano Al-Muhaijari and kept Iran safe early on.
Iran gained more confidence and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Brighton’s winger, stole a ball from the defenders and made it 1-0 after 32 minutes. Iran did not play especially better than Oman, but they were more accurate and got some help from the referee when needed.
On the 41st minute Mehdi Taremi fell in the box, and Cesar Ramos, a Mexican referee that was imported for the competition, saw a foul and called a penalty.
Ashkan Dejagah, one of Iran’s best players in the tournament so far, has converted and made it 2-0 few minutes before halftime, with his second goal of the tournament. Dejagah’s goal was the first penalty scored by Iran in an Asian Cup match (excluding penalty shootouts) since 2007. Taremi could make it even more, but he missed a great opportunity on the verge of the whistle.
The second half was played under Iranian control with numerous threats on Omani goalie Fayez Al-Rashidi’s goal. Oman tried, but the thought of what could have been if Kano’s penalty would have gone made it impossible for them to overcome one of the contenders to win the competition.
It is Iran’s first victory in the tournament’s knockout stage since 2004, when they played - Oman. They now will play China in the quarterfinals, in a must-win match for Queiroz and his players.
With this result, Iran have become just the third nation to keep a clean sheet in all of their opening four matches in a single Asian Cup tournament, after Korea Republic in 2015 (opening five games) and Iran themselves back in 1976.
As the tournament progresses, it seems that Queiroz’s Iran is a team that gives a lot of credit to the opponent and will adapt according to him. Whether it’s Iraq at Al-Maktoum or against Ronaldo’s Portugal - Team Melli will produce a World Class game. If it's against a less quality opponent, like Oman, they are struggling to get their game fully going, and find it hard to produce the ex-factor for winning in a slide. Against China, there will be no excuses.