In recent decades, the game in Jordan has failed to attract much attention beyond its borders. Ever since the Arab nation made their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying debut in the campaign for Mexico 1986, they have never been closer to a qualifying spot than they are now. Jordan are set to face Uruguay, the fifth-placed side from South America’s qualifying zone, on 13 and 20 November, with a ticket to Brazil 2014 going to the victors.
Now they are in with a genuine chance of playing in their first World Cup, and following a string of excellent results, Al-Nashama are having to get used to the spotlight. FIFA.com takes a look at the highlights of Jordan’s qualifying campaign, brings you the latest information on their star players, stats and coaching staff and reviews the most important team news from the past two years.
A long road
If they do make it to Brazil, Jordan will certainly have taken the scenic route. Starting their campaign in Round 2 of Asian qualifying, their 9-0 victory in the first leg against Nepal was their biggest ever win, and they sealed the deal in the second leg with a more modest 1-0 success. The Round 3 group stage pitted them against China PR and Iraq, two stalwarts of the Asian scene, both of whom have played in the finals of a World Cup.
Still buoyant after their excellent showing in reaching the last eight of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, Jordan started strongly, inflicting successive defeats on Iraq and China before cementing their lead by beating Singapore. Four wins on the trot made them one of the earliest sides to secure a place in Round 4.
Having never come this far before, Jordan could be forgiven for feeling positive, despite the greater experience of their three opponents; Japan, Australia and Iraq. But a shaky start to Group B brought them a draw against Iraq, followed by 6-0 hammering in Japan, which severely curtailed their odds of securing even the third spot and a play-off against the third-placed side in Group A.
Undaunted, a historic 2-1 win against Australia brought a glimmer of hope, followed by a superb 2-1 defeat of a Japanese side that had come to Oman hoping to put their qualification beyond doubt. A direct ticket to Brazil then looked possible but after Australia doled out a 4-0 thrashing in Melbourne, Jordan needed, and secured, a 1-0 win against Oman to reach the Round 5 continental play-off.
There, Jordan came up against fellow third-placers Uzbekistan. A 1-1 scoreline in Amman was repeated in Tashkent, taking the contest to penalties. A marathon shoot-out ensued with Jordan finally emerging triumphant and able to turn their attention to the final, intercontinental play-off.
Every side has its stars and Jordan are no different, but they have something different, a star so special he is nicknamed “Half the Team”: none other than giant goalkeeper Amer “The Whale” Sabbah. Blessed with the talent to play at the highest levels of professional football, Sabbah’s monumental efforts between the sticks have played a huge part in his team progressing so far.
Now 31, Amer Sabbah seemed destined for stardom from an early age and was already keeping goal for his country before the age of 20. He has played in all the major tournaments since, assisting his team to the 2004 and 2011 editions of the AFC Asian Cup, on both occasions playing a crucial role in their reaching the quarter-finals.
The lofty shot-stopper will be unavailable for the first leg against Uruguay after picked up a second yellow card against Uzbekistan, but Sabbah has every faith in his team-mates’ abilities: “I’d love to be playing in both games, but we’re one big family and everyone lends a hand. Whoever plays will certainly have what it takes to do his national team proud. Our goal is to qualify for the World Cup and that gives everyone a huge incentive to be in the best possible shape for the play-off. We hope we make our dream come true.”
The Jordanian team is a blend of veterans who have featured in a number of tournaments and high-pressure games, and a batch of talented youngsters who have proved their worth during the qualifiers. Many of these play abroad in the Arab world’s most competitive leagues.
Top of the list is team captain Amer Khalil, a lynchpin of the team’s attack and a vital source of chances and goals. Team-mate Hassan Abdel Fattah’s superlative goal tally in the Asian qualifiers is one of the main reasons his side are still in with a chance of going to Brazil.
Spearhead Ahmad Ibrahim is the only player to have featured in all 18 qualifying games so far and has scored some impressive goals, most notably his winner in their Round 4 clash with Japan. In midfield, Shadi Abu Hashhash has been rock solid, providing excellent defensive cover throughout the campaign. Nine members of the Jordan squad play abroad and there is also a contingent who cut their teeth on the global stage at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007.
Jordan have traditionally enjoyed great success under Arab coaches. The story begins with the late Mahmoud Al Gohari, the Egyptian who inspired his charges at the 2004 AFC Asian Cup. A period of decline ended with the arrival of Iraq’s Adnan Hamad, who lifted his team from the bottom of the Asian Cup qualifiers to take them through to the 2011 edition, where they once more reached the quarter-finals.
Hamad carried this success through to the current World Cup qualifiers, guiding the team to their first ever Round 4 berth. But with Hamad’s contract running out directly after the side went through to Round 5, the Jordan Football Association had to scramble to bring in Hossam Hassan to take over as coach.
Despite being relatively new to coaching, Hassan showed great faith, both in his own abilities and those of his players. The legendary Egyptian player did a sterling job, resulting in two draws against a strong Uzbekistan side, and when Jordan won on penalties he cried for joy. The sight of his players gathering round and lifting him onto their shoulders will live long in the memories of those who witnessed it.
Hassan seems confident in his team and is constantly reminding them of the fact. That is why, he says, the idea of the intercontinental play-off should not prove too intimidating: “The opportunity is there for the taking. We will get ourselves ready for this crunch tie, and we believe that the odds are with us. The pitch is the ultimate decider, we know that, and we want to qualify and achieve something historic for Jordan.”