The first leg of their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ play-off with Uruguay proved to be a very sad occasion for Jordan, who slumped to a 5-0 defeat in front of their own supporters.
Though despondent at the scoreline, most of the country’s fans were well aware their national side faced a daunting assignment against a team packed with the kind of world-class talent they are more accustomed to seeing on television than in the flesh.
A rude awakening
In the build-up to Wednesday’s big game, the home fans were excited but apprehensive, aware of the difference between the two sides, both in terms of their history and current playing personnel.
While Jordan had reached the last round of the Asian qualifiers for the first time and were appearing in their maiden intercontinental play-offs, La Celeste are the proud winners of two FIFA World Cups™ and are one of the biggest sides in South American and world football, having finished fourth at South Africa 2010 and claiming the Copa America a year later.
The underdogs nevertheless harboured dreams of an upset, of matching their highly-rated opponents and earning a world finals place for the first time in their history.
For the opening 20 minutes of the first leg, the dream was very much on, as the hosts gave as good as they got against the Uruguayans. Odai Alsaify was the first test to out visiting goalkeeper Martin Silva, deputising for the absent Fernando Muslera, with Adnan Suleiman trying his luck from distance and forcing Silva into another good stop minutes later.
Yet that was as good as it got for the hosts, as Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Co began to take control. The South Americans’ opening goal came from a flowing move that illustrated just how much class they have at their disposal, a point that was further illustrated when Cristian Stuani added a second just before half-time.
I’m very proud of the team despite the result. I want to express my total and everlasting support for the players, come what may. It was a punishing game, and a unique and very valuable experience that has taught them an awful lot.
Ahmad Hayl passed up a chance to cut the deficit for the Middle Easterners after the restart, the prelude to a late goal rush for the Uruguayans, who capitalised on their superiority in midfield to add three more goals and all but settle the tie ahead of next week’s return leg in Montevideo.
“Our opponents have a lot of international experience,” commented Jordan’s Egyptian coach Hossam Hassan afterwards. “We tried to impose ourselves but we weren’t sharp enough up front, while they’ve got the individual ability you need to win games like this.”
Hassan had been criticised in some quarters for naming a side featuring several inexperienced players and a number of others who had only just been recalled to the team following lengthy absences.
The fans’ pre-match optimism melted away as soon as Cavani, Suarez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Rodriguez and Maximiliano Pereira got to work, exploiting the time and space they were afforded by the Jordanian rearguard. Both Pereira and Stuani were unmarked in scoring Uruguay’s opening goals, while Cavani showed why he is so highly rated when teeing up Lodeiro for the third.
The fourth came about after the Jordanians lost possession near their own box, with Rodriguez enjoying plenty of time to pick his spot at the far post, while Cavani gave home keeper Mohamad Shatnawi little chance with a majestic late free-kick.
Coach Hassan put a brave face on the result, defending his players and taking full responsibility: “I’m the one to blame for this. We’ve made mistakes and the buck stops with me,” he said.
“Personally, I’m pleased with the work rate of the players today. They’ve picked up valuable experience for the future, and there’s no need for Jordan to fear the big teams now or feel inferior.”
Licking the wounds
King Abdullah II watched the second half of the game from the president’s box, an indication of the expectation the match generated across Jordan, while Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the President of the Jordan Football Association (JFA), had nothing but sympathy for the players after the final whistle.
“I’m very proud of the team despite the result,” he said. “I want to express my total and everlasting support for the players, come what may. It was a punishing game, and a unique and very valuable experience that has taught them an awful lot. To have come this far is an achievement in itself.”
Those words were well chosen. Jordan have had to fight hard to reach the latter stages of the qualifiers, and though outclassed by a tactically and technically superior side on Wednesday, the nation can take pride in everything Hassan’s team have achieved to date.
Their run to the play-offs included notable wins over Japan and Australia, both of whom have already qualified for Brazil, and the hope is that despite the harsh lesson suffered at the hands of the Uruguayans, they can go on and maintain their hard-won place in the Asian elite.
In the meantime, next Tuesday’s second leg in Montevideo comes and a chance for the Jordanian players to salvage some pride. Sadness was the overriding emotion as they trooped out of the stadium on Wednesday evening and made their way to the team bus. The following morning, accompanied by the president of the JFA, they boarded their plane for the Uruguayan capital, determined no doubt to atone for a first-leg showing that has brought them both pride and pain.