The fourth and final round of the Asian qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ will feature three sides who have never gone as far before, with Jordan, Lebanon and Oman upsetting the form book to move to within one last step of a world finals place. A source of much joy for their disbelieving fans, their sudden emergence also marks a turning point in the history of Asian football, as some of the region’s more established powers find themselves out of contention at an all too early stage.
FIFA.com has the details on the trio’s unlikely surge into the Asian elite.
No stopping Al-Nashama
Jordan’s strong showing in Group A provided confirmation of their improved form in recent years, Al-Nashama checking into Round Four as early as last November, when they recorded their fourth win in their opening four games by beating Singapore 2-0 at home.
That 100 per cent record was made all the more impressive by the fact that it began with a 2-0 defeat of Iraq in Erbil and continued with a 2-1 win over China PR in Amman. Comfortable back-to-back victories over the Singaporeans ensured they finished the job in double-quick time, much to the delight of their Iraqi coach, Adnan Hamed.
“We’ve written a new chapter in the history of Jordan,” he said after qualification had been sealed. “This new generation is coming on fast, and we’re motivated and have got the people and the authorities behind us. To get this far is a great achievement in itself.”
Though beaten in their final two games, with the Iraqis and the eliminated Chinese gaining a measure of revenge with identical 3-1 victories, Jordan have good reason to be optimistic about their chances of winning through to the world finals for the very first time. With players of the calibre of Hasan Abdel Fattah, Abdallah Deeb and Amer Deeb in their ranks, they have the ability to trip up yet more of Asia’s heavyweights in the final round.
Cedars standing tall
When the draw for the third round was made, not even the most fervent of Lebanon fans would have given their side much hope of qualifying from a group also boasting Korea Republic, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, especially given their side’s less than impressive record in FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Their debut outing in Group B could hardly have been more catastrophic: a 6-0 thumping at the hands of the South Koreans in Goyang. Just as their supporters feared the worst, however, the Cedars gave their morale an immediate boost with a 3-1 home win over UAE, following up with a 2-2 draw with the Kuwaitis in Beirut.
Then came the results that defied Lebanon’s status as rank outsiders, as first Kuwait were dispatched 1-0 in Kuwait City in November, and then the mighty Koreans 2-1 just four days later in the Lebanese capital. Those shock wins left Theo Bucker’s side needing only a point in their final game away to bottom-placed UAE to make sure of progressing to Round Four. And though they went down to a 4-2 loss, Korea Republic’s defeat of the Kuwaitis ensured they would take a wholly unexpected second place.
Qualification was greeted with jubilation by the fans, who flocked to Beirut Airport to welcome their heroes home and hoisted the German coach aloft in triumph. On returning to Earth, Bucker had this to say about his team’s stunning success: “We’re through at last, and we’ve taken everyone by surprise. We just played our game and scored the goals, and the results followed on from that.”
With their opening five games in Group D yielding just a solitary goal and a solitary win – albeit against the Australians – the Omanis were in need of a helping hand by the time their sixth and final match at home to Thailand came around, with a point separating them and the second-placed Saudis. To qualify they would need to beat the Thais and hope group winners Australia would do likewise when they entertained the Green Falcons in Melbourne.
Leading 2-1 well into the second half, the Saudis, coached by former Dutch great and Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard, looked to be on the road to the next round, only for the Socceroos to produce a three-goal burst in four minutes to run out 4-2 winners. That result, coupled with their 2-0 defeat of Thailand in Muscat, proved enough for Paul Le Guen’s men, whose defensive solidity at home and that notable defeat of the Australians were the keys to their hard-won success.