In just a few days, Jordan will make only their second ever appearance at the AFC Asian Cup. Drawn in a very difficult group, Al-Nashima (the Brave Ones) are hoping to match the achievements of their countrymen back in 2004, when they battled through to the second round. Amer Deeb played in that tournament and in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com he spoke about Jordan’s aspirations ahead of the 2011 edition.
FIFA.com: Amer, you are one of four Jordan players who also appeared in the 2004 AFC Asian Cup in China. Can you tell us about that experience?
The national team improved greatly towards the end of the ‘90s, and after our two victories in the Pan Arab Games we started to think about what we might achieve at continental level. We set ourselves the target of qualifying for the Asian Cup in China 2004 and put in some excellent performances in the qualifiers, finishing the group on the same number of points (15) as Iran. In China, our group consisted of Korea Republic, Kuwait and UAE, so we weren’t expected to reach the second round. We played well though, and became the dark horses of the first round when we qualified alongside South Korea.
What happened in the quarter-finals?
I think the whole of Asia can remember that match. Our opponents were the holders Japan and because we lacked experience in such crucial games, nobody gave us a chance of winning. We started well and surprised Japan with a quick goal scored by Mahmoud Shelbaieh.
Unfortunately we conceded an equaliser a few minutes later and that knocked our composure and as a result we didn’t play the way our coach Mahmoud El-Gohary wanted. Still, over the course of the game we created several chances to score but couldn’t convert them and the match went to penalties. Japan missed their first two to give us the advantage and we needed just one goal from our last two kicks, but their keeper saved them both and Japan went on to win.
Playing at the Asian Cup is everyone’s dream. We worked hard to qualify and we don’t intend to let this opportunity slip away.
You play Japan again in this tournament but this time in your opening game. What does this match mean to you?
It’s a totally different game. We know that Japan in 2011 are not the same side they were in 2004. Their performances have improved greatly and they gave a good display in the World Cup. That said, every tournament and match is different. All that concerns us today is that we focus on playing well against them and get a positive result that will help us to qualify for the second round, which is our top priority.
Don’t you fear that the Japanese will want revenge, even though they won in 2004?
Revenge? (Smiling) Perhaps. That match in China is history. They didn’t expect us to be strong opponents that year, but we did come close to winning more than once. After the penalties they couldn’t believe it, they celebrated as if they had won the title.
I think the memories of that game may play on their minds, and we need to make that work in our favour. We know we need to match their performance and are putting all our efforts into preparing well. And let’s hope we have the luck on our side this time.
What are your hopes for a young Jordan side at the Asian Cup?
Playing at the Asian Cup is everyone’s dream. We worked hard to qualify and we don’t intend to let this opportunity slip away. We need to focus on our main aim, which is to qualify from the group. If we manage that, it will be considered a success equal to that we achieved in 2004. Perhaps we can even better it, but our group has both Japan and Saudi Arabia in it and they are both very experienced in this tournament and past winners.
Our team is a mixed bag. We have experienced players who played in China, plus several of the young players who appeared at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup and have broken into the first team since. On top of that, we have some promising new players who we are grooming for the future. I think our team has a good mix and we hope to prove we are good enough on the field.
Do you consider being in Qatar a success in itself after your experiences in qualifying?
I believe it is. Nobody expected us to qualify after the first two matches. We only had one point and still had to play Iran. Our chances were slim, but the coaching staff changed and when Adnan Hamad took charge he gave us a belief in our ability to qualify. Everything was still to play for, and after losing the away leg to Iran we won the return match and were back on track. We then drew with Thailand and beat Singapore and we had achieved the impossible and reached the finals.
What do you think of the standard of Group B?
It’s one of the toughest groups. Japan and Saudi Arabia are the favourites to qualify and I think that takes the pressure off us but also increases our determination to play well. We shouldn’t forget Syria either. Matches against them are always hard but we will take each game as it comes, we believe in ourselves and will fight to win in all our games.
Your goal against Iran was one of the best in the qualifying games. What effect did it have on the team?
We had lost in Tehran against Iran and after three matches we still only had one point. Any result other than a win would have meant we had no chance of qualifying. We played extremely well but time was running out and there was no score. Then Odai Al-Saify broke down the left wing and put in a cross which eluded the goalkeeper and defenders. I had anticipated the attack, continued my run and when the ball reached me, I didn’t hesitate and smashed it into the back of the net. It was an unforgettable moment, one of the most important goals of my career and made even better once we had qualified. I hope that both myself and my team-mates can score more goals in the Asian Cup.