Canada 2007 will mark Jordan's debut in a FIFA tournament finals and, for coach Jan Poulsen, the competition will also represent his first opportunity to lead a team on to the world stage.
However, as one of the coaching staff who helped guide Denmark along their fairy tale run to UEFA European Championship glory in 1992, the 60-year-old is certainly no stranger to major international tournaments, and his experience is sure to prove crucial to the hopes of Jordan's youngsters.
Poulsen's side shocked everyone by advancing at the expense
of China , and though few will expect them to emulate in Canada the
achievement of reaching the AFC Youth Championship semi-finals,
Jordan's Danish coach is confident of helping the western
Asians to scale yet more unprecedented heights.
FIFA.com: Having performed so well in qualifying , what goal will you be setting your team ahead of the FIFA U-20 World Cup?
Jan Poulsen: We know that we are not one of the strongest teams in Canada and you have to be realistic, so when it comes to results we will fight for every single point - and be happy with any we manage to pick up. What is more important for me personally, however, is the development of the players as a team and as individuals. In India (at the AFC Youth Championship), we had problems when we were in possession: how to create and use space, when and how to support, and with our first touch. I am hoping we can improve well in these areas by competing against the world's top teams. In short, I would say out long-term goal is creating future players for the senior national team who are of a high standard.
As the first coach to have led Jordan to any FIFA tournament, how do you rate the team's achievement? Is it the biggest success you have achieved in your own coaching career?
Nobody in Jordan believed the team would qualify, but the players proved once again that if you believe in yourself, if you have the right attitude and you are able to keep focus, then you can get results. This certainly is high on the list when I look at the successes I have experienced as a coach. I have taken part in the 1992 and 1996 UEFA European Championships, the Olympic Tournament in Barcelona in 1992 and in the FIFA World Cup in 1998, and every one of those tournaments has been a great experience.
How would you rate the standard of youth football in
At the press conference in India after our 3-0 defeat to South Korea (in Jordan's opening match), I was asked why we didn't do better. I told the media then that Jordan's youth football is ten years behind the Koreans, not to mention most countries in Europe. There is a big gap. The Jordan FA is aware of this and has started establishing a youth development program, with, for example, the Prince Ali Development Centers for U-12 boys and girls. But there is a lot to be done. We still need a broader base of young players, better-educated coaches, better facilities and more international games.
What are the team's main strengths and weaknesses?
We know it will be tough in Canada, but we are not scared. With a good preparation we can narrow the gab between us and the better teams, and if you are well organised and willing to run, you will always have a chance.
You are no stranger to Asian football fans as you enjoyed a successful spell in charge of Singapore between 1999 and 2003. What level, in your opinion, is Asian youth football at compared to Europe, what is the most effective way for Asian nations to develop football at grassroots level?
As a rule of the thumb we say it takes ten years and 10,000 training hours to develop a good football player. The associations must create a structure where boys and girls from the age of six and seven start playing football and it's important that you create as broad a base as possible. Then you have more to select from when you scout for the new Ronaldinho. In Singapore, I started the Sunday Mini Football for the U-12s, I persuaded the schools to play a round-robin tournament for the boys of U-14 and I revamped the Centre of Excellences (COE) for the U-16s and U-18s so they would have training a minimum of five times a week, full-time coaches with minimum AFC B-license and a round robin tournament among the 12 centres. Associations have to remember that youth development is an investment in the future - it's about establishing a feeder line to the national team. When you look at the current Singapore National Team, six or seven of the players have come through the system we established during my tenure.
You defeated China 2-1 to qualify for Canada 2007, which was a major surprise. What was your tactical approach for this game?
My players had a positive and aggressive attitude. China had played a very good match against Australia, but were not convincing against UAE and Thailand. Defensively, China kept their back four very close together, so there was space on the flanks that we tried to exploit. It was a big boost for all of us and we were actually a bit disappointed that we didn't make it all the way to the final.
What preparations do you have planned for Canada?
We have organised a comprehensive programme: three training camps in Egypt, Turkey and Denmark, and several local and international matches.
What is your impression on the other three Asian teams to have qualified: Korea DPR, Japan and Korea Republic?
I said during the tournament that the semi-final between South Korea and Japan should have been the final. In my opinion South Korea were the best team closely followed by Japan. North Korea have some good players and work very hard, but they don't have the skill of the two other teams.
Finally, are you excited about the prospect of leading an Asian team to a FIFA tournament?
I have been to major competitions before, but this will be the first time as head coach, which is of course very exiting. It is always interesting and you can always learn something - even at my age - when you participate in these big events. It gives you energy and inspiration for your future daily work.