It is often said that a good goalkeeper can be worth half a team or even more, and that certainly applies to Jordan’s captain Amer Shafi. The veteran shot-stopper remains a source of confidence and optimism for his compatriots, as their national team gets ready to host Australia on Thursday in Matchday 4 of the Asian qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Currently enjoying his fourth World Cup qualification campaign, having led his side to the Intercontinental play-offs last time out, Shafi has been outstanding in the opening three fixtures this year, contributing in no small measure to away wins against Tajikistan and Bangladesh as well as the scoreless draw at home to Kyrgyzstan. Fully aware of the threat posed by the Socceroos, Jordan’s fans had been anxiously following updates on Shafi’s fitness, only recently getting the good news that he took part in training and is expected to feature in the eagerly-awaited showdown. Shortly after that training session, the custodian found time for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com in which he looked ahead to the game.
“We’ve beaten them before and have the motivation and spirit to do it again," Shafi said. "Nothing is impossible." Fully aware of his role as a captain, particularly in the build-up, Shafi sounded nothing if not composed.
“On the road to a World Cup, there are no easy matches, so you have to respect every opponent and simply do your best," Shafi said. "Yes, Australia are a very strong team and boast quality players, but this should only motivate us to perform well and achieve the best possible result."
Jordan head into Thursday's match hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Presently second in the group on seven points, two fewer than their Australian opponents, they know a win would put them top of the group and in the driving seat for an automatic spot in the region’s final qualifying round. On top of that, Jordan are desperate to take revenge for the 4-0 defeat to the Socceroos that denied them direct qualification to Brazil 2014.
It was a fantastic, unforgettable day, but we have to build on the experience of that fixture, which certainly bolstered our confidence.
Looking ahead to the 8 October encounter, the 33-year-old said: “We all know the importance of the game as we’re both expected to qualify. We’re two points behind them so if we want to advance to the next stage, we really have to beat them.
"A win would be the turning point in that respect. Our confidence stems from our win against them in the last campaign. We performed very well tactically, even outplayed them, and capitalised on their defensive mistakes. It was a fantastic, unforgettable day, but we have to build on the experience of that fixture, which certainly bolstered our confidence.”
Ahead of that memorable game between Jordan and Australia on 11 September 2012, Jordan's supporters were understandably daunted by the prospect of facing a team with several big-name European-based players. Indeed, much of the pre-match talk was about how the hosts could prevent the Socceroos from scoring. As it transpired, Jordan were superb in defence, with Shafi at his very best.
Recalling that encounter, the keeper could not hide his smile, saying: “It was a historic game and the first time we’d played them. We knew they had a strong team and very skilled individuals, and we were under huge pressure at the time, having lost to Japan in the previous match. That said, we were determined to get a good result.
"We played well tactically and managed to score at the beginning of the second half. Then, we made use of the spaces that opened up in their rear-guard to score the second. That was our first win of that campaign and the main reason we made it to the play-offs."
Asked if he was looking forward to going up against Australian star Tim Cahill again, Shafi replied: “He’s a very good player who has performed at the very highest level, so yes I’m happy to face him again. It further motivates me to do my best. Before the 2012 fixture, we analysed his movement in the box and I was able to stop him from scoring.
"He did manage to score in the return fixture, but defensively we made a lot of silly mistakes that day. I clearly remember how he found the target: it was a cross from out wide and he was able to control the ball. I tried to stop him, but he had too much space. We need to keep our composure and concentration to make sure he doesn’t get the chance to do that to us again.”
If Shafi does manage to keep Cahill and Co scoreless on Thursday, then expect him to rise even further in the estimation of the country’s appreciative fans, who will move one step closer to their dream of qualifying for the World Cup.