Doha: Jordan came from behind to beat Syria 2-1 on Monday at the Asian Cup to march through to the knock-out stages at their neighbour’s expense and set up a quarter-final clash with Uzbekistan.
Unbeaten Jordan, who are competing at the continental championships for only the second time, join Group B winners Japan in the next round after the East Asian giants thrashed a demoralised Saudi Arabia 5-0.
Mohamad Al Zino deservedly put Syria in front but an own goal from Ali Dyab and a second half winner from Odai Al Saify sealed the victory for Jordan, who needed to draw or win to advance.
In Jordan’s only previous Asian Cup appearance, in 2004, they went out at the quarter-finals, but their Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad hopes they can go a step further this time.
“It was very tough today and Syria had some chances, but we played well, we focused and were tactically disciplined,” he said. “We made some mistakes in the first half, but rectified that in the second period.”
“Uzbekistan are very strong. We faced them in a friendly a few weeks ago and their coach told me that he wanted to meet us in the final.”
“They are a strong and fast team, but it’s our ambition now to reach the semis-finals.”
Syria’s French-speaking Romanian coach Tita Valeriu said: “We started very well in the first 25 minutes and scored, but it was a tough match and Jordan equalised through an error. It was a gift, a big gift.”
“In the second half we made a lot of mistakes and Jordan played well. We made mistakes and after the second goal we just went from bad to worse.”
“But that’s football. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
Jordan were nearly ahead after only 36 seconds, but Hasan Abdel Fattah fired just wide when through on goal, but after that bright start, they faded.
Marshalled by Valeriu, who prowled the touchline anxiously, Syria began to pile on the pressure.
In contrast to Valeriu, Hamad stood impassively. But he saw his side deservedly fall behind on 15 minutes, as goalkeeper Amer Shafi could only parry Sanharib Malki’s shot into the path of Al Zino.
Al Zino followed up to gleefully fire into an open goal from six-yards out. And he should have put a rampant Syria 2-0 up four minutes later, but managed to guide a free header well over Shafi’s bar.
As the group stood at that stage, Syria were going through and their neighbours were heading out and Syria’s fans celebrated with a Mexican wave.
But on 30 minutes and against the run of play, Jordan equalised, as Syrian defender Dyab rose to meet an innocuous cross from Amer Deeb, Dyab’s header looping into the net with keeper Mosab Balhous grasping at air.
And Syrian captain Balhous was horribly exposed again five minutes later, finding himself marooned in no-man’s land, but Fattah poked the ball agonisingly wide.
As the first half ticked down, Jordan were now on top at an almost full Qatar Sports Club Stadium.
With the night closing in and the rain starting to fall, Jordan carried the momentum into the second half.
Eight minutes in Balhous came haring out of his box to a ball he was never going to reach, succeeding only in scything down Fattah and earning a yellow card.
Just before the hour Jordan were ahead 2-1 and within touching distance of the last eight as Shafi’s long punt upfield somehow made it all the way through the middle for Al Saify to lob the ball over the advancing Balhous.
Syria threw on another forward, conscious they needed to score twice to keep their hopes alive, but they rarely troubled Jordan.