Jordan became the eighth and final team through to the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ quarter-finals after a concluding round of group matches in which Morocco reaffirmed their title credentials and two heavyweights slugged it out for top spot.
Egypt ultimately earned the right to take on the Jordanians after ending level with Algeria on every metric except Fair Play points, with a couple of stoppage time yellow and red cards tipping the balance ever so slightly in the Pharaohs’ favour.
Les Fennecs, for their part, will face a Moroccan side that will be rested and full of confidence after achieving a third straight win and clean sheet with, essentially, their reserves. Lebanon, meanwhile, signed off on a high with victory over Sudan, while the hopes of both Saudi Arabia and Palestine were officially ended.
Record-breaker fills Jordanian void
As they posed for their pre-kick-off team photograph, Jordan’s players came together to hold up the No9 shirt. It was a tribute to forward and captain Baha Faisal, who was forced off early in their defeat to Morocco - and has since been diagnosed with cruciate ligament damage. If Faisal’s heart was warmed by that show of solidarity, it would have been sent soaring by the performance that followed. In the skipper’s absence, inspiration was provided by another of the team's talismans. When Hamza Al Daradreh slotted in from Yaseen Bakheet’s cross to make the score 2-0, he not only settled Jordanian nerves but established himself as his country's all-time leading scorer with 32 goals. Al Daradreh first rose to prominence in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, which he ended as Al Nashama’s top marksman on four goals – all of which came in one match against, as coincidence would have it, Palestine.
Morocco’s talent in reserve
Hussein Ammouta made no fewer than nine changes to his Morocco team for today’s meeting with Saudi Arabia and his second string still strolled to a thoroughly deserved victory. It was yet another impressive show of strength from an Atlas Lions squad that has ended the group stage with nine points, nine goals and three clean sheets. These statistics reflect the reality of a section in which Ammouta’s impressive side have simply proved a class apart, and leave them as the only side left in the tournament still to concede. Tougher challenges lie ahead but, on current form, the Moroccans look to be the team to beat.
Late cards cost Les Verts
For 40 minutes of this match, it looked like Algeria were heading for victory over their fierce foes and going through as group winners. Then for another 40, it seemed like we might be facing the unthinkable outcome of lot-drawing to determine who finished on top. But with the game well into stoppage time and these North African giants level on points, goal difference, goals scored and fair play points, El Arabi Soudani picked up a costly yellow card that tipped that final metric in the Pharaohs’ favour. The dismissal of Yacine Titraoui four minutes later made sure of an outcome that few could have envisaged before this tournament kicked off.
Cedars celebrate as red mist descends
Red cards have been a feature of this tournament, and even Lebanon-Sudan – billed as a near-friendly with both sides already eliminated – did not adhere to the expected script. Both sides ended with ten men, in fact, with Ahmed Ibrahim receiving his marching orders just 12 minutes after Rabih Ataya had been sent off for Lebanon. The Cedars kept their cool late on, though, to hold on for a first-ever win at this tournament and return home with morale well and truly boosted.
3 – Winless Saudi Arabia head for home despite having conceded just three goals in the group phase, all to players they know painfully well. Morocco’s Karim El Berkaoui, who plays his club football for Saudi side Al-Raed, proved their undoing today, while Mohammed Rashid - Palestine’s marksman in the sides’ 1-1 draw - played in the Kingdom with Al Jeel before moving on in June. As for the third goalscorer, he was the best known and most reluctant of all; Saudi centre-back Khalifah Al-Dawsari having handed Jordan victory in the teams’ opening match by putting through his own net.
"We missed several players today with suspension and injuries. But despite this, and all the pressure we were under, we gave a great performance. Qualifying is a big result considering all the circumstances we faced."
Adnan Hamad, Jordan coach
Friday 10 December (all times local)
Tunisia-Oman (Education City Stadium, 19:00)
Qatar-UAE (Al Bayt Stadium, 23:00)