Japan and Jordan are set to meet in Group B of Asian Zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. And though the sides have squared off on three occasions already, the Saitama Stadium contest will curiously be the first time one has played host to the other.
The previous three encounters all took place on neutral territory – and all produced the same 1-1 result. As the date of their fourth duel approaches, FIFA.com takes a look back at their rivalry.
First to Malaysia
The first time the two teams met was back in April 1988, during qualifying for that year’s AFC Asian Cup, when Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur staged a group made up of Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Jordan and Japan.
The final game between the latter two teams was to be decisive. Kuwait, untouchable at the top of the table, had secured the first qualifying spot and Jordan and Japan had to fight it out for second to earn a trip to the finals in Qatar. While both sides played for the win, Japan had the advantage of needing only a draw to go through. With the score 1-1 at the final whistle, the Samurai Blue scraped through only to subsequently disappoint at the Asian showpiece, crashing out with three defeats and a draw.
That would be the last humiliation in the competition for the Japanese. Four years later they were back with a vengeance and their results since then have been exemplary, with four Asian Cup titles to show from the subsequent six editions.
It was to be a full 16 years before the sides met again. Jordan were flying high after qualifying for their first ever Asian Cup, hosted in 2004 by China PR. A sterling group-stage performance saw them through to the quarter-finals where they were due to take on Japan, a side with clear ambitions for the title.
Their luck seemed to have run out, but Jordan surprised everyone by going ahead after 11 minutes courtesy of a Mahmud Shalbiya header. The Japanese quickly equalised, however, and with the teams locked at 1-1 at the end of extra time, there followed one of the most dramatic penalty shoot-outs in the history of the tournament. Ahead 3-1, Jordan needed to convert just one of last two attempts, but the pressure told on the inexperienced Arab side, who missed an incredible four penalties in a row to eventually go down 4-3.
China 2004 was current Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi’s first major international competition and he enjoyed an excellent quarter-final, making some outstanding saves in open play and stopping a penalty. Unsurprisingly, he can still recall the epic contest. “It was an unforgettable match,” he said. “No one gave us a chance against Japan but we proved our mettle and ended up being part of a truly historical encounter.”
Shafi remains proud of the achievement, even if the memories are bittersweet: “We could have won that game, but the luck wasn’t with us at crucial moments, especially during the penalty shoot-out.”
Cat and mouse in Qatar
Qatar 2011 provided the rivals with their next Asian Cup encounter. This time they met in the group stage, with Jordan under the tutelage of Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad.
The underdogs produced a high-quality tactical performance, ably protecting their goal and mounting rapid sorties into the opposition half. The strategy bore fruit when Hasan Abdel Fattah managed to jink through Japan’s defence and put his strike past Elji Kawashima via a defender’s boot. But with only seconds left on the clock, a lapse from the Jordanian backline allowed Yoshida to level the score.
Aqel, Hamad remain upbeat
With just minutes remaining in that same fixture, Jordan’s captain Hatem Aqel sustained a serious injury that sidelined him for months. Now fully fit again, Hatem is eager to test himself against the Samurai Blue once more. “Every time we play Japan, we’re the underdogs,” explained the defensive stalwart, “but in our last two Asian Cup games we proved that we’re more than capable of challenging the champions. This time will be no different - if anything it’ll be harder.”
“It’s the end of the season for us, and we spent a lot of time travelling after our game against Iraq. People should realise that the qualifiers are a long haul. It comes down to points and, whatever the result against Japan, we’ll continue to compete, though obviously we want to come back with the win.”
Once more, it will be Adnan Hamad who will lead the side in their upcoming clash in Saitama. With his vast experience, Hamad insists that this game against Japan will be different: “I reckon they know we’re capable of anything.
"They’ll be sure to pay attention to the details. We’ve got the ability to change our game plan from one game to the next, and our players have got experience against them. Some of the lads faced them in 2004 and not much has changed since Qatar 2011. All those draws have given us the confidence to come away with the result we want."
Whatever the result this time around, Jordan’s confidence is unlikely to be dented. Despite a nervy 1-1 draw against Iraq in their opening group fixture last weekend, the Jordanians know that they still have time to put things right, and that with perseverance and preparation, anything is possible.