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'Jordanian Messi' Al-Taamari key to Asian Cup dream

AP PHOTO

Few would have picked Jordan's Musa Al-Taamari to be one of the stand-out players at the Asian Cup in Qatar - but the energetic forward has lit up the tournament and helped guide his side into their first-ever final.

Jordan only qualified for the knockout stages as one of the four best third-placed teams, but since they entered the last 16, they have charted a spectacular rise with Montpellier winger Al-Taamari leading from the front.

In a tournament that was headlined by Premier League stars like South Korea's Son Heung-min and his national teammate Lee Kang-in, of Paris St Germain, it's the 26-year-old Al-Taamari who stole the spotlight in their semi-final win.

The hardworking Al-Taamari is key to Jordan's press, harrying defenders with his pace and ability to read their opponents' passing patterns to force mistakes.

It was Al-Taamari's interception that created the first goal in their 2-0 victory over South Korea when he pinched the ball high up the pitch, while his sensational solo run minutes later wrapped up the win to set up a showdown with hosts Qatar on Saturday.

His skills when he first came through the ranks in the Cypriot first division earned him the nickname the 'Jordanian Messi' and under Jordan coach Hussein Ammouta he has since flourished.

"The coach instilled tactical discipline in us. He gave us confidence, we gave South Korea respect but we pressed them from the first second. Spirit and patience are the most important things," Al-Taamari said.

"But this was not an individual effort, this was a group effort. I can't deliver this performance if the back line and midfield didn't give me those balls.

"When these opportunities arise, I like to run at goal without fear and thankfully I could score a beautiful goal."

That fearless attitude is exactly what has taken Jordan, ranked 87th in the world, to the brink of glory.

The majority of Jordan's squad play in the Gulf while Al-Taamari is the only player based in Europe, charting a path he hopes his compatriots will follow.

"Jordanian players deserve to play in Europe ... It's good to be in the final because everyone speaks about my country in France, this is important for me and I hope we can do well in the final," he added.

Coach Ammouta is one of the reasons why Jordan have shone, overcoming intense criticism following a poor record in 2023 before guiding them to the final with shock wins over Iraq and South Korea.

The Moroccan hopes more Jordanian players will make Europe's top leagues and though he recognises there is work to be done back home, he hopes their success at the Asian Cup is a stepping stone.