“Be proud of the badge on your jersey and be proud to represent your country. Play with your heart and use your head. Make the most of these unforgettable moments.”
Those inspiring words form the message that Robbie Johnson, coach of Jordan's national U-17 women’s team, plans to deliver on Friday, the day his charges will play their first-ever game in a FIFA-run tournament.
The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 kicks off that same day, and all eyes will turn to the Amman International Stadium, which will stage the host nation’s opening match against Spain. Jordanian fans will be looking for a solid start from their young stars, who have their sights set on qualifying for the knockout stages from a tough-looking Group A that also features Mexico and New Zealand.
“It’s going to be tricky,” the English coach admitted to FIFA.com. “Spain reached the final last time around [at Costa Rica 2014] and then lost to Germany on penalties in the European Championship final. Spanish football is very strong, be it the men’s game or the women’s game. We’ve watched some of their matches, and we spotted a few interesting things. We’ll work on some technical aspects prior to the match.”
This clash with Spain will represent a first for some of the players who have not yet pulled on the national-team jersey, although the majority of them have played in the national league or during the qualifying campaign for the AFC U-16 Women’s Asian Cup. Johnson was keen to stress the historic nature of their upcoming U-17 Women’s World Cup debut.
“This match will be momentous for the girls,” he said. “I’m not worried about any pressure. We’ve prepared extremely well and played Venezuela and Brazil in similar conditions to those we’ll experience at this World Cup. We lost those two matches, but that doesn’t really concern me. The girls have learnt a lot from taking on big teams that are also going to be taking part in the competition.
“They shouldn’t be afraid of playing at this level. They’re going to put into practice what they’ve been learning for the last few months at our training camps. They’ve shown in different circumstances that they can compete. I’ve got confidence in them and I know that they have the necessary fighting spirit to achieve what some say is impossible.”
Pride but no promises
After Spain, Jordan will have to lock horns with Mexico on 3 October, in Irbid, and with New Zealand on 7 October, in Zarqa. “The Mexicans are a powerful, pacey team,” said Johnson “but, more importantly, they’re well organised. We don’t have a lot of information on New Zealand, but we’ll get a good idea from watching them play their first two group games. The key thing is for us to be mentally ready.”
Jordanian fans remain concerned that, as their team is competing at this level for the first time, a series of heavy defeats awaits. However, there are some informed observers who believe that the hosts are more than capable of advancing past the group stage.
“In football, you can’t promise anything when it comes to results,” explained Johnson. “You plan everything out, and then it all unravels on the pitch. I am sure, though, that the girls will give 100 per cent. They’re keen to get going with the tournament and have shown great commitment. They’ve got the right mindset to forget about past mistakes and the determination to show what they’re capable of.
“I think that everyone is going to look at them differently. It’s the first time that they’ve needed the support of everyone. I’d like to thank the families of the players for their efforts. I could tell that they all couldn’t wait to see their daughters fulfil this mission for their country.”
In conclusion, the Englishman shared his general opinion of the prestigious tournament: “The fact that this competition, the first of its kind to take place in the Middle East, is being held in Jordan is a great source of pride for people here. I’ve been able to see that up close. It’s going to give a real boost to football in Jordan.
“As for who is going to win, several teams have shown their potential in previous tournaments. I think in the end the trophy will go to Japan, Korea DPR, USA, Spain, Germany or Venezuela. And maybe there’ll be a surprise in there too. We’ll see.”