Jordan’s historic advance to the fourth round of the Asian Zone qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ has captured the imagination of the country’s football fans. Accustomed to failure, they have seen the team known as Al-Nashama advance to the final round for the very first time since the nation made its qualifying debut in the race for places at Mexico 1986.
Four wins in five games in their third-round section took the Jordanians into Round 4, where the remaining ten sides will be drawn into two groups of five. The last of those victories, a 2-0 home defeat of Singapore on 11 November, clinched their place and sparked scenes of jubilation in the capital Amman and across the entire country, jubilation that has barely died down despite last week’s 3-1 loss at home to Iraq, the other side to advance with them from the pool.
Daring to dream
After years of disappointment and inconsistent performances, Jordan fans are now starting to believe their heroes can go all the way to Brazil, their hopes fuelled by the team’s excellent run of results, which have earned the side respect across Asia.
The first indication that things would be different this time around came when the Jordanians stunned Iraq 2-0 in their opening game, a result they proved was no fluke by beating China PR 2-1 in Amman four days later. Understandably buoyed after seeing off two nations with FIFA World Cup finals pedigree, Al-Nashama made sure of a slot in the next round in double-quick time, posting back-to-back wins over Singapore to reach the next phase and end nearly three decades of hurt in the process.
The architect of their long-awaited success is coach Adnan Hamad, who was chaired around the pitch by his ecstatic players when they clinched qualification against the Far Easterners and cast off his habitual reserve to join in the celebrations. Having caught his breath after that unforgettable night in Amman, he shared his views on Jordan’s campaign with FIFA.com.
“We’ve worked hard to achieve our objective, which we knew would be a tough one,” he said. “The players have had a hectic schedule, what with the qualifiers and their domestic commitments around Asia, but everything has gone just as we planned and they’ve given everything in training.
“The fact we’ve qualified early shows how seriously they’ve taken this challenge,” he continued. “I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart, as well as the Jordanian FA and its president, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, without forgetting all the people who’ve supported us along the way. I can guarantee them that we’ll do even better in the rest of the competition.”
All I can say is we’ll be doing all we can to reach the World Cup, which is our next objective.
When the final whistle blew on Jordan’s decisive 2-0 defeat of Singapore, Hamad’s players were caught up in delirious scenes on the pitch, in the dressing room and on the bus that took them back to their hotel. Dancing to the chants of their ecstatic fans, they soaked up the adulation, among them captain Bashar Bani Yaseen: “It’s fantastic. We’ve just shown that we deserve to take our place in the elite.
“The whole of Asia now knows that our performances at the last AFC Asian Cup in Qatar owed nothing to luck,” he continued. “I’d like to thank God for this qualification, and my team-mates who’ve given their all.”
“We set ourselves the objective of reaching the last four and fighting it out for a place in Brazil, and we’ve achieved that today,” added goalkeeper Amer Sabbah, who conceded just one goal in his side’s opening four Group A games. “Our efforts have been rewarded with four consecutive victories, and I’m ready to take on any striker. I love a challenge and I hope I can rise to the occasion.”
While the Jordanian frontline has shown a cutting edge throughout the campaign, perhaps the chief architect of their success has been wide man Amer Deeb, who was no less grateful for their progress to the final phase: “We want to thank God first of all. We stayed focused and we used our heads up front, and thanks to our very clear gameplan, we managed to score lots of goals. What we need to do now is step things up a level and make sure of a place at the world finals.”
Learning a lesson
Jordan’s qualification party came to an end three days later when they lost their perfect record at home to Iraq. After taking the lead and then hitting the bar, Hamad’s charges committed a string of second-half defensive errors to fall to a 3-1 defeat, bringing them back down to earth with a bump and giving the coach food for thought ahead of the fourth round.
“It’s never nice to lose,” said Hamad. “We took risks and we got halfway there in the first half, but you can’t take anything for granted in football. Iraq have got some experienced players and they put us under pressure, making the most of their chances after we’d failed to kill the game off. There was no way back for us in the second half and it’s a timely lesson for us to learn. That said, we need to keep looking forward, and we can’t wait for the warm-up games we’ve got lined up in preparation for the final round.
“I’ve been waiting to get there since I came into the job in 2009,” added Hamad, clearly relishing the challenge. “We’ve made it through without having to wait for the final round of games, and the region's top ten teams will be there. There won’t be much to choose between them and the qualifiers have shown there can be surprises in store for any side. It’s great to have a good record behind you but you have to be respectful on the pitch. All I can say is we’ll be doing all we can to reach the World Cup, which is our next objective.”
That objective is slowly coming into view, raising hope among five million Jordanians that the year ahead will prove just as exciting and as profitable as 2011.