Jordan on the rise again

Success is a relative notion for the countries that comprise Planet Football. Whether it is acquiring trophies and titles, reaching the final stages of continental tournaments or establishing themselves as a force on the global stage, objectives vary from nation to nation. It is rare for aspirations to equate to simply improving performances and results.

In Jordan, the approach of the country’s Football Association has undergone radical change under the presidency of H.R.H. Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein. The tenure of the forward-looking royal, a strong believer in progress, has been marked by landmark decisions that have propelled the nation’s football team in an upward direction. His presence at national training sessions and his unwavering moral support enabled the Jordanians to emerge victorious from the Pan Arab Games for the second time in a row in 1999.

The Prince’s vision has been key to forging the Association’s aspirations; the efficient planning and increasingly ambitious objectives demonstrated today in Jordan have both come about as a result of his leadership.

Development of a nation
The year 2002 saw the arrival of one of the most highly-reputed coaches in the Arab world, Mahmoud Al Gohary. The astute Egyptian’s first move was to put in place a programme aimed at improving the overall standing of Jordan’s national team. This long-term project began to bear fruit from 2004 onwards, when the nation qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the very first time. Many observers suspected that the Jordanians’ presence at the continental event – staged in China – would be fleeting at best, but the team had other ideas. Not only did they advance past the group stage, they were also unfortunate to fall to Japan in the quarter-finals, losing out on penalties at the end of a memorable match. And despite equally excellent results in their qualifying campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, Jordan narrowly missed out on making it to the final round of games, regional giants Iran proving just too strong.

Close cooperation with FIFA
These setbacks did not prevent the Jordanians from pursuing their grass roots development work, adopting certain basic rules in an attempt to build upon their recent successes. It was around this time that the Jordanian FA began to work closely with world football's governing body. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter’s visits to the country played a crucial role in boosting the game in the country, especially in the support he provided to the Association’s development plans. Under the auspices of the Goal project, brand new stadiums were built and ground-breaking training sessions for coaches were introduced. These first, tentative steps soon had a knock-on effect, as a young Jordanian team achieved a maiden qualification for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.

A soaring success
Two years down the line, and with the return of Al Gohary in the role of technical coordinator, the qualification of Jordan’s full side, U-19s and U-16 sides for the AFC Asian Cup, AFC U-19 Championship and AFC U-16 Championship respectively became the nation’s key objectives.

The three teams set about achieving this goal in weather conditions that could only be described as less than ideal. All three national selections followed the same preparatory regime, the result of which was successful campaigns at all three age levels of the Jordanian game, and a return to prominence on the Asian stage for Jordan.

The miracle of Amman
The qualification of Jordan’s senior side for next year’s Asian Cup in Qatar was nothing short of miraculous. With results in their 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign having left a lot to be desired, the decision to maintain Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada at the helm had a negative impact on the nation’s initial displays in the Asia-wide competition.

Vingada’s charges began their Asian Cup qualifying matches with a disappointing 0-0 draw with Thailand in Amman, and then followed that up with a surprising defeat away to Singapore. It was at this stage that the Jordan FA decided that a change was imperative, promptly turning to a man who was already well versed in matters of Jordanian football: the experienced Iraqi, Adnan Hamad.

Shaking off the intense pressure immediately placed on his broad shoulders, Hamad got down to work, intent on bringing Jordan’s results and performances back in line with supporters’ expectations. Following a further loss to Iran in Tehran, their opportunity looked to have passed them by, barring a remarkable turnaround. However, signs of recovery were spotted in the return fixture, with Hamad’s men upsetting the odds by defeating the Iranians. Meanwhile, Singapore and Thailand proceeded to take points off each other, consequently transforming the qualifying scenario for Jordan.

After coming away from Thailand with a point, all that was then required to progress to Qatar was the defeat of Singapore in Amman, something that Jordan’s players duly achieved in an historic 2-1 victory in March of this year.

U-19s advance again
Following their appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, Jordan’s youth side had pinpointed qualification for the AFC U-19 Championship as a major priority, having already been present at the 2006 and 2008 editions of the biennial showpiece. The 2010 batch of players was equipped with many fine talents, and was expertly guided by Egyptian coach Mohamed Abdelazim and a knowledgeable Jordanian backroom staff. Meticulous preparation all round laid the foundations for success, with the young Jordanians finishing top of their qualifying group, securing a ticket for the final stages of the AFC U-19 Championship in China with victories over Palestine, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and a draw versus Yemen.

Unique achievement for U-16s
Jordan’s U-16 team had never before managed to assert themselves at a continental level, a fact that led the nation’s FA to call upon the services of a coach who had previously worked with youth players at Manchester United. Despite his taking the reins after the qualifying tournament in the United Arab Emirates was already under way, the effect of a change in leadership was immediate, with Jordan’s U-16s crowning two long years of hard work by securing qualification for the AFC U-16 Championship – set to take place in Uzbekistan later this year – for the first time ever.

Nashama earn new respect
The Nashama (‘The Brave Ones’), as they are known by their fervent supporters in Jordan, have therefore finally managed to establish themselves as a force on their own continent. With the three Asian competitions now just around the corner for the different age levels of Jordanian football, in Qatar, China and Uzbekistan respectively, the country’s fans will have much to cheer about over the coming