Jordan's stellar performances in the Asian zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ can be attributed in no small part to the efforts and cohesiveness of the players. But alongside the team's collective strength, coach Adnan Hamad has put in place a strategy that relies heavily on the individual skills of his top players, and none more so than striker Abdullah Deeb, who has already scored twice in the group stages and created a third.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 24-year-old spoke about the qualifying campaign so far and his team’s hopes for the future.
A start in Iraq
Getting off to a good start is crucial in any qualifying campaign and, as the Jordanian delegation boarded the plane to the Iraqi city of Arbil in early September, the players exuded a steely resolve. As it transpired, their performance that night exceeded almost all expectations and hinted of a bright new era for Jordanian football.
“We knew how tough Iraq are on home soil in front of their fans,” Deeb explained, “so both ourselves and our vastly experienced opponents were pumped up. We carried out Adnan Hamad’s instructions to the letter and our efforts were rewarded with two goals and a priceless victory. We were on our way, with the confidence we needed to take into the rest of our campaign.”
We want to end this year on a high and we’ll do everything we can to succeed in our ambition.
Small wonder they were so pleased. This was their first win over Iraq in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match, their only previous encounter having ended in a draw. Hasan Abdel Fattah opened the scoring just before the interval, allowing Abdullah Deeb to all but seal the win with the second just after the break. His strike was impressive for the composure he showed in finishing, and Deeb himself is justifiably proud.
“When we came back out for the second half,” he recalled, “we knew the Iraqis would be going all out in attack, so we were looking to exploit the space at the back. My job on the left wing was to watch and wait for the gaps. So when Amer Deeb broke down the right I quickly moved into the box and got my head to his cross. I was convinced it was going in but the goalkeeper just managed to block it. I didn’t give up, though, and won the ball back. Everyone assumed I would pass, but I made a quick turn, created the space I needed and shot from a narrow angle. The ball flew into the net, and I can’t tell you how good it felt. We’d gone two-up and the win was within reach."
Breaching the Great Wall
A few days later Jordan welcomed a strong China PR side that had beaten them in two previous encounters. The first half ended without incident but the hosts stunned their opponents with two quick goals at the start of the second half that proved too much for the visitors.
Deeb once more played a crucial role, receiving a pass from the left and shimmying his way into the box. Then just when the harried defence thought he would shoot, he selflessly offloaded to Baha Abdulrahman, who fired home.
“We’d practised this move on the training ground,” Deeb said: “My job is to breach defences and bear down on goal, but at the last moment a couple of Chinese defenders blocked my way, so I decided to pass the ball to Baha instead of wasting the chance. Thank God his shot went in, and when Amer Khalil knocked in the second our victory was assured!”
Celebrations in Singapore
Singapore might have lost their first two games against Iraq and China PR, but Jordan could take nothing for granted when they headed to south-east Asia last month looking to take a stranglehold on the group.
As it transpired Jordan’s three goals were more than enough to confirm their status as worthy frontrunners, though the match was tougher than the scoreline suggests. The tone of the game was set in the opening minutes, when Abdullah Deeb met a cross from Ahmad Hayel and flicked it into the net. Deeb raised his arms to the heavens then knelt and gave thanks before being engulfed by his team-mates.
“It was a crucial goal,” the 6”1 forward insisted: “When you face your opponents on their home soil you try to break their spirit by scoring early. Ahmad Hayel moved out right while I was slipped the defenders, so by the time he delivered the ball I was in the area unmarked and had a free header. We were playing on an artificial surface which made it almost impossible for the goalkeeper to react. The goal arrived at the perfect time for us, making it easier for us to score our second and third later.”
Sealing the deal
Jordan are now within touching distance of the next qualifying round. If they beat Singapore again and China PR fail to win against Iraq next month, they will go through to the fourth round for the first time in their history. However, Abdullah Deeb is taking nothing for granted.
“We’ve got used to playing each game on its merits,” he insisted. “We’re getting closer to the most important game in Jordan’s world cup qualification history, and all we care about right now is a fourth win and the three points. If things go our way in the China-Iraq game then we’ll be officially through to the next round. Beating Singapore and making the fans happy is our priority. If we’re lucky enough to qualify then we’ll party like crazy on the night, but the very next day we will have to refocus on the game against Iraq. It’s an important game too, and we have two objectives: first, to beat them in Amman and second, to take an unassailable lead at the top of the group before our final game against China. We want to end this year on a high and we’ll do everything we can to succeed in our ambition.”
A star reborn
Abdullah Deeb first made his mark as a member of the Jordan team that qualified for the finals of the AFC U-19 Championship in 2006. The young striker had a superb tournament and the Jordanians booked themselves a berth at FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada the following year. Deeb sparkled at Burnaby’s Swangard stadium, scoring two goals in Jordan’s encounters with Zambia and Spain. Despite going out after the first round, the Jordanians impressed many, while for Deeb it was a personal triumph, paving the way for a senior team call-up later that same year.
“After the U-20 World Cup, I was invited to join the ranks of the senior side,” he explained. “I’d already learnt a lot playing in the Asian and World Cups and but my first major test came at the beginning of this year, playing in the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. I wasn’t satisfied with my standard of play. I wanted to improve. Now, thanks to the support of the coaching staff and Adnan Hamad, who has let me play in my favoured spot behind the front pair, I’ve been able to do what’s been asked of me. So far I’ve got two goals and I’m looking for more.”
A vital component of Hamad’s formation, the Jordanian faithful will be hoping the young Deeb can maintain his outstanding form for the remainder of the qualifying campaign and see Jordan through to an historic appearance in Brazil.