Friday, March 1, 2024

Football fever grips Jordan before historic AFC Asian Cup 2023 final | AFC Asian Cup News

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Amman, Jordan – For Mohammad Trakhan, a cafe owner in Amman, tennis has always been the sport of choice despite living in a football-mad country.

He demonstrates his passion for the game by swinging an imaginary racquet before squeezing a glass of fresh orange juice at his colourful rustic cafe perched upon a hill in the Jordanian capital.

This week, however, the 37-year-old has shifted his focus to football.

Jordan are in the Asian Cup final for the first time in their history and Trakhan, the reluctant football fan, predicts a 3-1 win for his side over favourites Qatar.

Football fever has truly gripped the country of 11 million people.

On Tuesday night, when the referee’s full-time whistle confirmed Jordan’s semifinal victory over the mighty South Korea in the AFC Asian Cup 2023, thousands of people poured into the streets to celebrate.

Traffic ground to a standstill as fans draped in Jordanian keffiyehs waved flags, belted out football chants and burst into impromptu performances of the traditional dabke dance.

In a central thoroughfare located by a quiet residential area, teenagers fired makeshift flares by lighting the spray from aerosol cans, while others climbed on each other, causing the crowd to sway as they lost balance.

Stern-faced police officers blared their sirens as they attempted to move the joyous throngs of fans along, but drowned out by the raucous crowds, they soon conceded defeat and stood aside.

Jordanian fans climb on a car as they celebrate their semifinal win [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

‘Are we France or Argentina now?’

Jordan are ranked 78th in FIFA’s team rankings and their historic footballing achievement has captivated the nation.

The fervent atmosphere has sparked an interest in the game for the uninitiated, including Mohammad al-Khayyat, a gregarious marketing manager, who admittedly does not watch a lot of football.

“It’s the first time we have reached the final of this tournament, and we are all in shock,” he tells Al Jazeera.

“We are asking ourselves: Wait, are we France or Argentina now?”

The reference to the Qatar World Cup 2022 finalists is not the only hyperbole.

For many Jordanians, including 23-year-old shop assistant Anas Awad, Tuesday evening was the “best night for Jordan”.

Looking out at a bustling street in downtown Amman, Awad says the party will be much bigger on Saturday night if Jordan win the final.

Jordan vs South Korea – AFC Asian Cup semifinal [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
The men in white celebrate a goal during the AFC Asian Cup semifinal [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

While most fans of the an-Nashama (the gentlemen) are betting on a win for their team, the more serious ones predict a difficult game.

Waseem Mustafa, a sales assistant and avid kickboxer, draws on his own experience in sports and urges caution against predicting an easy win.

“Qatar are a strong team,” he says, as he looks at the floor with furrowed brows before going with a 2-1 win to Jordan anyway.

Awad, the shop assistant, says he has been impressed with tournament hosts Qatar. He says he would have flown out to see the game at Lusail Stadium if he “had been wealthier”.

Thousands of Jordanians have been happy to splash out on the final, be it with last-minute flights to Doha or buying the football team’s shirts in local markets.

Sales of replica Jordan football shirts have gone through the roof at Mustafa’s shop. His store manager desperately orders new batches over WhatsApp to meet the demand as a proud father places an order for his three children.

A local travel agency told Al Jazeera they had been inundated with requests by football fans desperate to fly to Qatar.

Israel’s war on Gaza overshadows celebrations

An-Nashama’s success is the talk of the town, but not everyone celebrated the win on Tuesday.

Mohammed al-Barghuti, a soft-spoken customer at a popular clothes store in central Amman, chose to watch the game at home out of respect for the Palestinians facing the wrath of Israel’s war on Gaza.

“I felt [we] couldn’t celebrate in public when humans are being killed,” he said solemnly.

“If not for the war, you would have seen 10 times more celebrations on the streets than you saw on Tuesday.”

Jordan is home to more than two million registered Palestinian refugees, according to UNRWA.

Yahya Nasser, a 21-year-old trainee barber and pastry chef, has no intention of celebrating if Jordan wins. Football, he says, is the last thing on his mind.

Being a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, he cannot enjoy anything when he sees his people “fighting for their land and their lives”.

Trakhan, the cafe owner, is originally from Palestine and says that although he does not mind other people celebrating, he will watch the final in a subdued atmosphere, perhaps on his phone with a few friends.



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