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Asian Cup: Jordanian-Qatari row unleashed by bad-tempered final

Escalating rhetoric in both countries has prompted officials and intelligence services to step in to keep the peace
A cartoon depicting a Qatari man giving money to Ma Ning, the referee in the Asian Cup final (social media)
A cartoon depicting a Qatari man giving money to Ma Ning, the referee who awarded Qatar three penalties in the Asian Cup final (social media)
By Mohammad Ersan in Amman

On paper, the all-Arab final of the Asian Cup on Saturday should have been something to celebrate. But soon after the final whistle blew on Qatar’s 3-1 victory over Jordan, tensions began to brew between the emirate and the kingdom.

Three penalty goals were enough for Qatar, the holders, to down a plucky Jordanian side that sat 18 places below them in the Fifa rankings. The match was played in Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, and many Jordanians felt the manner of the Qatari goals, as well as the location, suggested it was rigged.

The 88,000-seater Lusail was a sea of maroon, with Jordan’s players seemingly intimidated by the overwhelmingly Qatari crowd. A Qatari flag was placed on every seat in the stadium.

In contrast, a very small number of seats were apparently available to Jordanian fans, with black market tickets reportedly being sold for as much as $1,000.

Before the game, unsubstantiated rumours were circulated that the Chinese referee, Ma Ning, had previously been suspended over allegations of match fixing. The fact he then awarded Qatar three penalties only added to Jordanians’ sense of injustice, though there is no indication that Ma Ning has done anything wrong.

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Jordan’s national team - known as al-Nashama, the Bedouin word for brave - has a modest history of football success. The country of 11 million people has never reached a World Cup finals, so its march to the final of the Asian Cup stoked nationwide feelings of pride.

Following the tournament, a huge rally was held at the national stadium to honour the team. The prime minister even issued a decree allowing employees to leave work early to avoid choked roads when the players arrived at the airport (which actually made the traffic worse).

Qatari newspaper al-Watan with the offending article criticising Jordan
Qatari newspaper al-Watan with the article criticising Jordan

Today, the final still dominates Jordanian social media. Accusations of impropriety continue to fly, and a cartoon depicting a man dressed in Qatari national dress giving a stack of cash to the Chinese referee went viral.

In response, Qatari newspaper al-Watan ran a scathing anti-Jordanian article, accusing Jordanians of being bad losers and insisting the game was won fair and square.

The Qatari writer was angry about an interview given by the head of the Jordanian football federation, Prince Ali bin Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah II, who seemed to sarcastically thank the match officials.

“We say congratulations to the players and congratulations to the refereeing team,” Prince Ali said, before correcting himself and saying he meant to say the coaching team instead.

The newspaper also attacked the star of the Jordanian team, Montpellier winger Musa al-Taamari, describing him as “a player devoid of sportsmanship and morals, who failed miserably in leading his country to victory”.

It then went on to mock the history of Jordanian football, which it said “was on the decline while in Qatar it was on the rise”, and accused Jordanians of losing their morals.

Naturally, the al-Watan article circulated quickly in Jordan, adding fuel to the fire.

As things escalated, Jordan’s intelligence service asked bloggers, influencers and websites not to do anything that would make things worse, and desist from any criticism of Qatar, which they did.

The Qataris also realised the al-Watan article was causing problems, and took it down from the paper’s website. Naturally, it remained in the print edition that had already been distributed. 

Shortly after the article was deleted, the editor in chief of the Qatari newspaper al-Sharq, Jaber al-Harmi, tweeted about the importance of Qatari-Jordanian ties.

'Verbal exchanges we have seen in recent days are unfortunate and unacceptable'

Editor in chief of al-Sharq newspaper

“The fraternal relations between Qatar and Jordan at the official and popular levels are greater than the result of a match, and the two brotherly peoples cannot allow them to be tampered with by any party,” he said.

“Verbal exchanges we have seen in recent days are unfortunate and unacceptable, and I am certain that it does not satisfy everyone.”

Meanwhile, Qatar’s ambassador to Amman, Saud bin Nasser bin Jassim Al Thani, told Al Jazeera: “The final was Arab and we are all proud of it. Congratulations to Qatar, congratulations to al-Nashama, and a salute to al-Nashama for their honourable and manly performance.”

Jordan’s relationship with gas-rich Qatar is strong and highly lucrative for the kingdom, which is struggling with economic problems.

Many Jordanians also work in the emirate, and there are several Qatari investment projects in Jordan. Doha has also previously provided Amman with gas at favourable rates.

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