Jordan, one of the surprise packages of the 2004 AFC Asian Cup, are set to make their second appearance at the continental showpiece next month under the tutelage of veteran Iraqi tactician Adnan Hamad.
The former Iraq national team coach spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his decision to take on his current role, Jordan’s successful qualification campaign and his expectations for the finals in Doha.
FIFA.com: Can you tell us how you came to be offered the Jordan job?
Adnan Hamad: As you know, I came to Jordan several years ago to coach Al Faysali, but after I left that job I continued to live in Amman as it suited my family and I. Shortly after Jordan failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, I was approached about taking on the coaching role. However, nothing concrete happened until after the second round of the Asian Cup qualifiers in 2009.
Not many people believed you could turn things round at that stage…
That’s right. Jordan had one point from their first two games, having drawn 0-0 at home to Thailand and lost 2-1 in Singapore, so it was imperative we take points from our next two fixtures – Iran at home and away – to stay in the race for Qatar.
So how did you revive the team’s fortunes?
My staff and I took over in April 2009 and as we had several months before the qualifiers resumed, we set ourselves two clear targets. The first was simply to work on improving our overall performances, but the second was a more long-term aim. We needed to bring some younger faces into the team; either those who’d been involved in the U-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007 or other players. We then embarked on a number of friendly matches to prepare the team.
Can you tell us about that double-header with Iran?
In reality this was the starting point of our journey – a lot of hard work was resting on those two games. We played the first game away in Azadi and matched our opponents, but a defensive mistake in the last minute cost us the game. In the return fixture we had a lot of support from Jordan FA president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, as well as the public. That backing and the realisation of just how important the game was really spurred us on, and we got the three points. It changed everything, because after that we drew in Thailand and beat Singapore 2-1 in Amman to secure our place in Qatar. It was a success that all of Jordan had been longing for.
Jordan have been handed a difficult group at Qatar 2011. How would you rate your chances?
The draw was extremely tough. Japan are one of the best teams in Asia. They gave a good account of themselves at the last World Cup and have beaten Argentina in a friendly. Saudi Arabia are also a very experienced team who’ve just played in the final of the Gulf Cup. And you cannot discount Syria. They’ve got some promising young players and a few others who ply their trade overseas.
I think it’ll be a very tight competition, but Jordan are no worse off than the other teams in the group. We’ve got several squad members with international experience, together with some emerging youth players who are hungry to do well. Everyone wants to represent their country at the finals, and the quality of the opposition and stature of the competition can only help them improve.
We’ve made all the preparations we can and gathered information on our opponents. We’ll shortly resume training and we’ve organised friendly matches against Bahrain and Uzbekistan during our Dubai-based training camp. We’ll also have another match shortly before that. If everything goes to plan, we’ll arrive at the finals in good shape.
A lot has been said about your team selection…
That’s to be expected. Fans will always have something to say about a coach’s selections, whatever they are. Our aim was to bring in some new blood, but also keep the experienced hands, who will have a lot to offer in the three years between now and the end of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. However, it doesn’t make sense to keep older players who can’t last an intense 90 minutes.
I should point out that the team have improved recently. We’ve got a number of options in midfield and attack, although we’re missing something at the back. To that end, I’ve brought in a couple of players who can hopefully fill that gap. When we were knocked out of the West Asian Championship we came in for a lot of criticism, and that’s something the players don’t need. Individual mistakes happen in the best of teams, and you mustn’t forget we were without our two best defenders. I expect things to improve when they return in the near future.
Overall, how would you describe the Jordan job?
It is almost perfect even if the possibilities are more limited than with the neighbouring countries and the rest of Asia. The team gets support in everything mainly thanks to Prince Ali, who is very close to the players and always working with us. He ensures the FA give us everything we need both in terms of training and matches. We’re convinced that his presence at the Asian Cup will boost the morale of the team, and consequently that they’ll raise their game. We hope to have good support from the fans at Qatar 2011, which ideally will give Jordanian football fresh impetus for the future.