Jordan collectively held its breath in the days leading up to hosting continental giants Australia for the first time, in the fourth round of Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™. When the day came, supporters flocked to the King Abdullah International Stadium to see if their side could overcome the mighty Socceroos and get their qualifying campaign back on track.
With only one point to show for their opening Group B games, following a draw against Iraq and a comprehensive defeat by Japan, fan morale was low. But as the much-anticipated clash with three-time FIFA World Cup participants Australia drew near, the pressure of the occasion turned fear into steely determination: only a win would do.
Back to life
Jordan’s veteran coach Adnan Hamad knew that once out on the pitch all that counted was fighting spirit and tactical commitment. When the referee finally blew his whistle Jordan did not disappoint and turned in a stunning performance to win 2-1, erasing bad memories of their past two games and proving the coach’s assertion that his side were ready to take on the continent’s best.
FIFA.com spoke to Jordan’s strategic mastermind Hamad following the epic encounter: “Coming into this game we were looking to achieve a number of things: increase our points tally to move off last place in Group B, record our first win and restore some self-belief. We took all that into consideration when we made our plans.
“We had a two-pronged approach to our preparations,” the former Iraq striker explained: “The first was tactical, to do with our style of play and how best to combat Australia, and the second was to restore morale. Many people had doubts that we’d be able to bounce back after the defeat to Japan so it was so important to recapture that fighting spirit that characterizes Jordanian football.”
Hamad was justifiably proud of the results: “I reckon we succeeded! The players had a game that will never be forgotten and even more crucially, we achieved all the targets we set for ourselves beforehand and for which we worked so hard.”
But Jordan cannot afford to rest on their laurels and Hamad is all business when asked about the remaining Group B games: “I think we’re back in contention. We’re up in second place, which is great, but we know there is still a long way to go and the hardest is yet to come. We have two equally tough games next, both away from home: the final opening leg match against Oman in Muscat then the first return leg game against Iraq in Doha. We will try to keep our tactical shape as a unit. Now the season is underway the players’ physical fitness has improved and we will prepare ourselves properly to meet the challenge.”
Another victory over the Socceroos?
If Jordanians were to take a look at the career of their canny 51-year-old coach they would see that this was the fourth time he has faced Australia a coach. The first encounter came at the quarter-final stage of the Olympic Football Tournament in 2004 when Iraq beat the Olyroos 1-0 to win through to the final four, while the second was another 1-0 win, this time in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
His third victory under his belt, Hamad talked about the team he loved to face: “When you’ve beaten a team before that naturally gives you confidence and can lead to another win. Those previous games taught me how to deal with them.”
“I’d beaten them twice with Iraq,” he continued, “and even when my side lost to them on their home ground we played superbly but just didn’t have the luck. I felt just the same coming into this game with Jordan and tried to pass that confidence on to the players. I was completely focused on this match. We managed to get the right plan in place after I had a look at Australia during their friendly against Lebanon in Beirut, and after they drew 0-0 against Oman in Muscat, I saw things were going the way we wanted.”
“The players gave a masterful performance,” he smiled. “They did exactly what I asked of them and that win of ours was the fruit of intensive effort.”
Return of the giants
Jordan took more than the three points away from their latest win. Just as important is the boost to the side’s morale, which was already riding high at the return of star Hasan Abdel Fattah after a two-match absence that left Jordan with a huge hole up front.
Abdel Fattah rarely fails to make his mark in important games and a potent threat at the opponent’s end with seven goals to his name in these qualifiers. Nor did the midfield sensation disappoint, opening the scoring in Amman from the penalty spot, before lack of match fitness saw him substituted late in the game.
Speaking after the game, Abdel Fattah confessed, “It was a tough game but we were determined to win it. We tried to grab every chance on offer and when you get a penalty in this type of game you can’t miss it. It was a make-or-break moment when I stepped up to take it. I tried to concentrate on the goal. I know Schwarzer’s a big guy but it didn’t stop me taking him on and rattling his net.
“I was so delighted with that goal,” he added, “because it made the win possible. Now it’s back to the competition and we want to keep on going. We’ve got time to prepare for the new challenges coming our way in these qualifiers.”
Another key figure in the victory was goalkeeper Amer Shafi. Kept in the side after a disappointing showing against Japan, Shafi repaid the coach’s faith in full, a fine reaction save against Tim Cahill signalling the start of a fascinating contest between Australia’s high-quality attacking unit and the man they call “The Whale”.
His steadfast defiance between the posts saw Shafi a worthy winner of the Man of the Match award. Off the field he spoke about the game: “It was a huge challenge for me, going up against world-class players like that. I raised my physical fitness levels and mentally prepared myself for all eventualities. I knew everyone would be watching me and thank goodness, I stood up to the Australian attack.
“I didn’t want to concede a goal,” he added ruefully, “but the end result was in our favour. I cried tears of joy when the final whistle blew. We proved to everyone that we’re a serious outfit. We won’t give up and we want to go forward.”