In under two weeks' time, the Jordan national team will set out once more in pursuit of the grail that has eluded them for over 25 years: reaching the finals of a FIFA World Cup™. The task of turning this elusive dream into reality rests with a group of players who impressed greatly during the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, where they battled through to the quarter-finals before losing 2-1 to Uzbekistan. And while their performances at the tournament have given their fans grounds for optimism, team captain Hasan Abdel Fattah knows that only on-field performances matter, as he explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
A team on the rise
Later this month, Jordan will face Nepal over two legs in the second round of Asian Zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. While on paper at least, they will be odds-on to reach the group stages, Abdel Fattah is sounding a note of caution: “The first games are extremely important for us. We want to give our best. We’re not looking at Nepal’s low ranking or inexperience in the qualifiers. There is no such thing as a weak team any more. If we don’t respect our opponents, or fail to play our best football, we could run into problems. That said, we’re hoping for an ideal start, and that means two wins against Nepal.”
“We know that this is the best opportunity of qualifying we’ve ever had,” the Jordan playmaker continued. “And we have to give everything to make the most of it. We’ve proved to everybody that we can handle the responsibility and can stand up to the best sides in Asia. After all, we embarrassed Japan and beat Saudi Arabia, and now we’re one of the continent’s top ten sides. So we achieved that goal, but we’ll need luck to be with us, too. It’s the same for any side and is especially important in the draw and the group stage matches.”
Turning to the subject of his side’s strengths, Abdel Fattah said: “There are a number of things that contribute to our success, most importantly the technical staff and training. We’ve got a well-respected coach in Adnan Hamad, who’s got all the experience we need and has had great success wherever he’s been. He’s the one who got us back on track and guided us through the Asian Cup qualifiers. It was his ability to adapt to new circumstances and challenges that ensured we put on such a great performance during the tournament itself in Qatar. Another thing we have on our side is the harmony in the squad. We all understand each other perfectly, and now we’ve got the talent and fitness to put our plans into practice on the pitch.”
Taking on Asia
Jordan’s captain came into his own at the Asian Cup Qatar 2011 and played a central role in his side’s performances. “It was a fantastic tournament for us,” he enthused. “When the draw was made and we were put in a tough group with Japan and Saudi Arabia, nobody expected that we would make much of an impression. We had no illusions about how hard it would be, but it just made us more determined to surprise people. Our aim was to fight for every second of every match and not to be overawed by our opponents. We got off to a great start against Japan, a match in which we stuck to our gameplan and I put us ahead. Only a late strike by the Japanese denied us all three points.
“We then beat a strong Saudi Arabia, who have been very successful in recent years, before qualifying for the quarter-finals with a win over Syria. That was an achievement in itself, but we wanted to go further. A semi-final spot in our second Asian Cup appearance would have been amazing, but luck wasn’t with us. We went into the match against Uzbekistan missing our best defender and attacker, made a couple of errors and came out losing 2-1. There were a few chances to level the score but we didn’t take them,” the 28-year-old lamented.
As for his own performances, they showcased a mature, goal-oriented approach ideally suited to his role as attacking midfielder. Moreover, his ability to track back and defend, while staying alert for possible counter attacks, made him a potent threat. His strike against Japan was particularly notable, representing as it did Jordan’s first goal at the tournament and a warning to their bigger-name opponents.
“Yes, I remember it well,” he said of his 45th-minute goal. “It was a happy moment for me. I received the ball from Amer Deeb on the edge of the area, checked my movement and set my sights on goal. There was just one player between me and the target, so I wrong-footed him and got off my shot. I was fortunate as it went in off the defender’s foot, but I’d dreamed of scoring in that match, so I’ll take it anyway it comes! We wanted more but Japan had us on the back foot towards the end of the game.
Character in adversity
Despite his undoubted ability, this is the first time Jordan will use Abdel Fattah as a regular starter in a FIFA World Cup preliminary competition. That is not to say, however, that his talents have not graced previous qualifying campaigns. On 31 May 2008, Jordan faced Korea Republic in a qualifier for South Africa 2010 in Seoul, and after 47 minutes found themselves 2-0 down and staring at elimination. Cue the entrance of Abdel Fattah, who promptly restored parity with two beautifully finished strikes.
“What a match!” reminisced the hero of the hour. “It was a tough one! We needed at least a point to stay in contention and, though we were two goals down, all I could think of was scoring. Luck was with me and I managed to net a brace. We ended up getting a draw and I think the Koreans were shocked. They thought they had the win sewn up.”
A consummate pro
Following his international successes and with a fine reputation at club level, Hasan left Jordan league champions Al Wahdat for the Syrian city of Homs, where he wowed fans of local side Al Karama. So what did he make of his time there?
“It was a very fruitful experience. The atmosphere at the club was ideal and the team were well looked after. I got to play in my favoured position and put in some great performances, so I was fortunate enough to be nominated for the Best Player in Asia award.”
Next up was a loan move to Kuwait, which proved more challenging the Jordanian said. “During the winter transfer window I got an offer from Al Kuwait SC. I agreed, papers were signed, then I sat around waiting to prove myself on the pitch. I wasn’t given much of an opportunity, though. When I did play, I scored goals and helped the side win games, which is why I was there. Then I got injured and that delayed my return to Al Wahdat. Now I study any offers I get very carefully. I really don’t want to get involved in a deal that prevents me playing as often as I would like.”
Having strived long and hard to get where he is today, Abdel Fattah, along with his team-mates, seems more than ready to face the challenges awaiting him on the road to Brazil.