Although their fairy tale last-eight finish in England 1966
represented the undoubted high-point of their largely unremarkable
football history, Korea DPR remain a mysterious force in Asia that
none of their continental rivals dare underestimate. For Jordan,
however, who play host to the North Koreans in Amman on 6 February
in the sides' opening fixture in the third round of Asian
qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, their
visitors hold no fears.
There is a historical basis for such confidence, with memories still fresh of an emphatic 3-0 victory over the Koreans in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier in 2003, a result that proved crucial in helping the Jordanians progress to their first-ever continental finals, in which they reached the quarter-finals. More important to morale than this fond memory, however, has been the series of impressive recent friendly results racked up by Nelo Vingada's team, whose declared target is to qualify for the final stage of Asian qualify by emerging from a section that also includes Korea Republic and Turkmenistan.
Vingada's charges certainly got their preparation off to a flying start as they thrashed Oman 3-0 in an away game in December, avenging their defeat at the hands of the Gulf side in a crucial qualifier for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup. A creditable 1-1 draw against the newly-crowned Asian champions Iraq on 24 January was sandwiched in between a 3-1 defeat of Bahrain and a 4-1 trouncing of neighbours Lebanon, before they rounded off the preparatory programme with a 2-1 friendly win over Singapore on Thursday, a week before the reunion with Korea DPR.
Of those matches, coach Vingada singled out the draw against Iraq as the most important result for his under-pressure team, who disappointed by failing to qualify for the AFC Asia Cup last July. "Jordan and Iraq are no strangers to each other but the game against Iraq was my first one in charge of Jordan and I am glad we played well against the Asian champions," said Vingada, who is best remembered for steering Saudi Arabia to the continental title at the 1996 AFC Asian Cup.
The friendly in Al Ain certainly proved to be especially evenly-contested. Iraq took the lead in the first half courtesy of Ahmed Menajed but Jordan rallied after the interval, with veteran striker Mahmoud Shelbaieh restoring parity with a late strike. By the end, in fact, Vingada felt that his side had edged the Asian champions in the creativity stakes.
"It is a lack of luck that prevented us from claiming the victory," he said. "We produced more good chances and we should have scored at least two goals in the first half. We went on to squander a number of chances after the restart. On the opposite side, Iraq were limited to fewer chances and they scored only be capitalising on our defensive error."
This competitive friendly against one of Asia's top sides also provided Jordan with much-needed international experiences and exposure, something for which their coach was extremely grateful: "The lessons the players were taught in the game against Iraq will be learned well when they play against not only Korea DPR in the opening qualifier, but also against Korea Republic and Turkmenistan in the games to come."