Asian Cup final biggest stage yet for Jordan's trailblazer Tamari

By AFP   February 9, 2024 | 07:15 am PT
Asian Cup final biggest stage yet for Jordan's trailblazer Tamari
Jordan players celebrate the decisive goal against Iraq in Asian Cup's round of 16 on Jan. 29, 2024. Photo by AP
Son Heung-min was supposed to have been the star of the show in the semi-finals but instead it was Mousa Al-Tamari whose sparkling display fired Jordan to the brink of Asian Cup glory.

The pacy 26-year-old made one goal and scored the other as Jordan saw off Son's South Korea 2-0 to surge into Saturday's final for the first time in their history.

There they will meet hosts and reigning champions Qatar.

On paper Jordan -- 87 in FIFA's rankings -- are the underdogs but with Tamari and fellow forward Yazan Al-Naimat in red-hot form nobody would bet against them pulling off another shock.

Tamari, who also scored twice in a 4-0 thrashing of Malaysia at the start of the tournament, is the only member of the Jordan squad playing in Europe.

More than that, he has made a success of it, first in Belgian football with Oud-Heverlee Leuven and since last summer with top-flight French side Montpellier.

He moved to the Ligue 1 club on a free transfer after his contract with Leuven expired, having reportedly had options too in Spain, Turkey and England's second tier.

The first Jordanian to play in France's Ligue 1, Tamari has been a revelation in making 16 appearances for a struggling Montpellier team, scoring five times.

"He's strong, he keeps going and he defends too," Montpellier's coach Michel Der Zakarian purred after Tamari made a fast start to life in France.

"He's a cool guy and he's a hard worker."

As Jordan's best-known player and a fast dribbler with flair, Tamari has inevitably been dubbed "the Jordanian Messi", something he is not a fan of.

Teenage debut

Tamari was born in Amman, the capital of Jordan, into a football-mad family and started kicking a ball around aged six.

His mother wanted him to concentrate on school but the strong-willed boy had a dream -- to play in one of Europe's top-five leagues.

As a teenager he played club football in Jordan and caught the eye after just a handful of matches, earning an international call-up barely two months after his 19th birthday.

Within two years he was getting noticed overseas and was snapped up by Cypriot giants APOEL, where the Lionel Messi comparisons first came along.

His successful time there brought Champions League qualifying matches, including home and away against European giants Ajax, and a domestic title. He was also named the Cypriot league's MVP.

In 2020 came the move to Belgium for a reported fee of just over one million euros, bringing 10 goals, before the switch to Montpellier last summer.

Tamari was scintillating against a South Korean defence who just did not know how to handle the pace and power of him or Naimat, who has also scored three times at this Asian Cup.

South Korea's skipper Son was left to look on and admire as Tamari picked the ball up in his own half and cut through the Korean rearguard for a spectacular second goal for Jordan.

After the semi-final, their Moroccan coach Hussein Ammouta said they needed more players following in Tamari's footsteps if the country's football is to progress. Jordan have never been to a World Cup.

Tamari says the talent is there at home, but warned his countrymen that they need more than that.

"Commitment, mentality and discipline are very important things and are the basis of professionalism," he told AFP in Qatar.

"If you lack them, you cannot succeed."

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