Jordan's shot-stopper Amer Shafi has proved time and time again that he has shoulders broad enough to bear the weightiest of responsibilities.
The veteran custodian sat down recently with FIFA.com to talk about his side’s historic achievement in making to the fourth round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and their upcoming clash with Australia.
After an encouraging 1-1 draw with Iraq in their opening fourth-round fixture, Jordan then endured a chastening 6-0 reverse at the hands of Group B leaders Japan, leaving them badly in need of a win against Australia on 11 September if they are to have a realistic chance of reaching Brazil.
Shafi is under no illusions about the importance of their upcoming match in Amman, saying: “After a draw in our first fixture things got a bit trickier, so it’s impossible to overstate how badly we need some points from our home game. We’re well aware that Australia have a lot of strengths, with players who compete in some of Europe’s toughest leagues, but that only makes us more determined to give everything we’ve got in pursuit of the win.”
“This is our battle,” the 30-year-old went on, “and everyone’s expecting a lot from us. I can assure the fans that we’ll to show the fighting spirit they’re used to seeing from us. Hopefully we can pull it off because the right result would go a long way to ensure we stay in the competition.”
The towering goalkeeper is no stranger to major tournaments. Indeed, he made and cemented his reputation as one of Asia’s finest keepers at the 2004 and 2011 editions of the AFC Asian Cup. Possessing deceptive agility for someone with such a massive physique, and the ability to propel himself through the air, it comes as no surprise to learn that Shafi received the sobriquet 'The Whale' from adoring fans.
So how does he feel about the impending clash with a side that boast some very dangerous forwards? “They’ve got some superb guys up front,” he said, “guys that have learnt their craft in top-flight European competitions. I’m in intensive training at the moment and we’ll be taking a close look at how they play and some of those little things you can pick up on by watching old games.”
The player is certainly not afraid to shoulder his share of responsibility, saying: “This match means a lot to me and I want to live up to everyone’s expectations – those of my team-mates, the coaching staff and the public. So many people are expecting so much and I promise them I can meet the challenge.”
Most observers gave Jordan little chance of reaching the fourth and final round of a long and difficult qualifying campaign that has presented them with no few obstacles.
“Truth be told no one gave us a chance at the start of the third round,” Shafi recalled, “especially with Iraq and China in our group. But we’re a side with the ability to topple giants. After the Asian Cup in Qatar we’ve only been getting better. We were narrowly beaten in the quarter-finals by Uzbekistan then immediately began our preparations for the qualifiers.”
Nor has their work behind the scenes gone unrewarded. “We concentrated superbly in our opening [third-round] game against Iraq, beating them at home, then defeated China in Amman. When we got that second win we knew that two victories over Singapore would guarantee us a place in the next round, and we managed to pull it off.”
However, the euphoria of that achievement quickly wore off as the business end of the Brazil 2014 qualifiers got under way. “The fourth round began with conditions very much against us,” Shafi continued. “It was the end of long and draining domestic season and we were being asked to play our best football.”
“We tried as hard as we could against Iraq, and I believe we could have won,” he added ruefully, “but in the game against Japan we were up against an impossible task. Everything was against us: a long flight, the time difference, even incidents in the match itself. We were playing with a weakened team against a fired-up Japanese side out for avenge after the two losses we’d inflicted on them in the Asian Cup. Faced with all that, any team in the world could have lost by the same margin.”
“We have to put that match behind us,” Shafi concluded, “but that doesn’t mean we’ll forget it. It will motivate us to try harder. There are still points to play for, and anything could happen with the sides in our group. We still have a chance so we want to grab it!”
In what will be the first encounter between these two sides, no one is expecting the Australians to be cooperative visitors. And, not for the first time, Jordan fans will be hoping Shafi can keep the opposition at bay and the door to Brazil 2014 ajar.