Jordan have had an excellent start to their qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, recording successive victories against Iraq and China PR in Group A. These two wins over highly-fancied teams have transformed the Nashama (The Brave Ones), as they are known at home, into the surprise package of the section.
The Jordanians find themselves on the verge of reaching the final stage of the Asian qualifying process for the first time ever, and moving one step closer to a maiden appearance at the FIFA World Cup proper. The earlier declarations of Jordan national coach Adnan Hamad, in which he predicted that his charges were capable of making history, now appear decidedly prescient.
In another exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Iraqi native shares his thoughts on the two group matches played by Jordan thus far, the challenges that await around the corner, and his adopted country’s chances of eventually making it to Brazil.
FIFA.com: Jordan have had a great start to their qualifying campaign. Tell us a bit about the two recent victories over Iraq and China PR.
Adnan Hamad: We’ve had a really good start, it’s true. These two wins have definitely put us on the right track. We went to Iraq to get a positive result, even though we realised that playing a team that hadn’t performed in front of their home crowd for so long was going to be very tough. We knew that we’d need a fair amount of territorial advantage to have a chance of winning. The formation we opted for was designed to make good use of the space available and to take advantage of Iraqi mistakes, and the plan worked. We scored two goals, on either side of half-time, and we managed to hang on to our lead, despite being put under a lot of pressure at times.
That victory gave us a real confidence boost before playing China in Amman. I’d said before that our aim was to win all of our home matches. We’d studied their style of play, which helped us to neutralise their attacking threat. Having done that, we then scored two goals within a short space of time in the second half. They then pulled one back, but our defence held firm for a well-deserved win.
Do you believe that these two triumphs have put you within touching distance of the final stage?
No, not really. As I’ve said before, we’re in a complicated section, one which contains some top teams. The first two rounds of fixtures confirmed exactly that. Sure, we’re top of the group, but we’re still a long way off qualifying for the next round. Of course, there’s no doubt that the task is easier for us now, relatively speaking. We’ve got two games against Singapore coming up, and we’ll have to be totally focused. If we can pick up six points there, then we’ll be able to say that we’re through to the final qualifying phase. That’s why I’ve asked my players to give 100 per cent in these games. Just because our opponents have lost their first couple of matches doesn’t mean we should take them lightly. Singapore’s players have shown that they’re not here to make up the numbers, forcing China and Iraq to fight hard for the three points. We’ll need to be at our best, both physically and mentally.
If you do not obtain the necessary points against Singapore, are you afraid that your players might crack under the pressure of the final two games against China PR and Iraq?
No, not at all. I know that my players will finish in the same way that they started. I’d even go as far as to say that their physical effort increases when the opposition gets tougher. Everyone is aware that we have enough experience to be successful during this qualification process. This generation of players put in some big, battling performances in the Asian Cup, and we showed in Qatar that we can handle pressure. With a bit more luck, we might even have reached the semi-finals. We’ve got a well-balanced team, with a blend of experience and young talent. We have a clearly defined tactical approach. We prepare for different opponents by adapting our game accordingly. I’d just add that my players have shown an extraordinary fighting spirit, because what they want most in the world is to help Jordan become one of Asia’s top teams.
If you reach the final qualifying phase, is there a fear that your players might lose their motivation?
First of all, our team has been making steady progress for quite some time now. Currently, our principal objective is to qualify for the final phase. We need to grab one of the two available slots, and we have a golden opportunity to do so – an opportunity we can’t let slip through our fingers. If we make it, we’ll prepare as hard as we can in every area, and we’ll approach it with the aim of securing a ticket for Brazil. You always have to aim high. There’s no doubt that the continent’s best teams, those that have already taken part in a World Cup, will be there. But I think that the Asian Cup and the start of this campaign have shown that football in Asia has come on in leaps and bounds. Some of the big favourites have struggled, both at home and away. Australia and Jordan are the only sides to have won their first two matches. Looking forward, we don’t just need to maintain our form ahead of some potentially huge matches in the final phase, but we’ll actually have to raise our game to satisfy our supporters.
You tend to make very few changes from match to match. Have you thought about calling up any new players?
Continuity creates a sense of harmony, and I think that this group of players forms a well-organised unit out on the pitch. My lads apply the tactics demanded of them and adjust to new instructions with ease, be it before, during or after games. Thankfully I’ve got a great squad at my disposal, with very competent players, particularly in decisive fixtures. But that doesn’t mean that the door is shut, or that there’s no room for new players. The opposite is true, in fact. I’m aware of how important this current period is, and I know better than anyone that the road to Brazil will be long and winding, especially when injuries and fluctuations in form are taken into account. That’s why the door to the national side will always be open to high-quality players that can strengthen the squad. I want to get to a point sometime in the near future where I can put together a list of 22 players or more who are all capable of performing at the same level. We’ll keep an eye on players that interest us all season, until they reach the level we’re looking for.