The Jordan national team’s campaign in the Asian qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ has been its most successful since the qualifiers for Mexico 1986. Indeed, seeing as they reached the final round for the first time in their history, finishing third in Group B, it could be considered their finest showing ever.
Jordan's feat of finishing just behind Japan and Australia means their FIFA World Cup dream is very much alive. With so many hurdles already behind them, the team must now square up to Group A's third-placed side Uzbekistan over two legs to determine who will face the fifth-placed South American side in an intercontinental play-off for a berth in Brazil.
The Round 5 encounters with Uzbekistan are scheduled for 6 and 10 September and will be held in Amman and Tashkent. Following the recent, unexpected departure of Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad, the Jordanian Football Union were forced to come up with a replacement at short notice. They found the coach they wanted in Hossam Hassan, one of the legends of Egyptian football and, fittingly, a student of the late great Mahmoud Al Gohary of Egypt, the man responsible for revolutionising Jordanian football during his time in charge of the national team.
With just days to go before the home-leg kicks off, Hassan spoke to FIFA.com about the upcoming encounter and getting the side’s preparations and priorities right to move a step closer to Brazil.
Barely two months after his appointment this July, Hassan finds himself facing the very challenge which he was brought in to overcome. So how does he feel about the lead-up to this encounter with Uzbekistan?
“When I signed up,” the ex-Egyptian striker began. “I knew how tough this period would be. It’s certainly not the best time of year to be preparing a team for a big match, since early September is usually when the domestic season kicks off. It was a race against time. We had a qualifying game against Syria one month into our training program, and it was hard to squeeze friendlies in. We played just two, against Palestine and Libya.”
When we play here (in Amman) we fight harder and the fans give the players a huge boost.
But the difficulties did not end there: “After the Syria game we were hoping to get a fourth game in against Iraq, but it just wasn’t possible, seeing as the most important members of the squad had commitments overseas. The Iraq match was cancelled, so we’ll have to make do with intensive training in the run up to the game.”
I would have liked to play more games if there’d been time,” Hassan continued. “But the fact I already knew the players and had followed their progress through the qualifiers made things much easier. From my three games in charge, I’ve been able to pinpoint a lot of positives, but some weaknesses too. We’ve been able to work on them in our training sessions and I’m confident our side will be competitive and qualify. That’s our objective and we’ll do it.”
As both coach and team are well aware, they are no longer in the point-collection phase of their campaign. To that end, Hassan's training sessions have all been geared to specific objectives, as he himself explained: “We know that this won’t be easy. That’s why we have to set out clear targets that we want to meet during the two legs. I like to see them as two halves of a single match, since the day after the home leg in Amman we fly to Tashkent to play the away leg just four days later.”
“In the first half we want a positive result that will enable us to go into the second half full of confidence. If we manage that, then of course that will affect our choices and tactics for Tashkent, so we’re eager to get started.”
Benefitting from positives
Jordan have been strongest on home soil, where not only did they remain undefeated throughout Round 4, they also inflicted two memorable defeats against eventual qualifiers Japan and Australia, as well as a win against Oman in their final group game. The fact that Jordan are a different proposition inside the fortress of the King Abdullah Stadium is an integral part of the coach’s plans.
“We have a lot of positives to draw on in Amman,” he said. “When we play here we fight harder and the fans give the players a huge boost. We want to preserve these things. Speed in attack is one of our great qualities, but I’ll work to control the recklessness that might lose us the ball and give our opponents a chance to break back. There are a few other things we’ll be doing too.”
It is a question of balance: “We don’t want to make mistakes, so we have to focus when we go on the attack. Right now, I’m happy with the side’s forward play because we’ve got a lot of options, and the players are in synch. We’re hoping for a successful performance in the first leg, which we can build on in the second.”
Naturally, he has being keeping a close eye on his opponents: “We’ve been following Uzbekistan’s last few matches very closely and we’ve noted all their strengths and weaknesses. Overall, they base their game on speed and physical strength.”
Along with his twin brother and assistant coach Ibrahim, Hossam Hassan has past experience of playing at a FIFA World Cup. It was his goal against Algeria that sealed Egypt’s qualification for Italy 1990, and so no one is keener than him to make a return to the biggest stage of all.
The memories of that tournament are still fresh: “Playing in the World Cup is the dream of every player. There aren’t words for what I experienced then, and when I talk to the players I impress that on them. I talk to them about what it means to win and to have the honour of representing your country at the biggest festival of football in the world. I can tell that this team have a huge desire to go all the way and achieve their dream,” he concluded.