West Asia's finest braced for action
The sixth West Asian Football Federation Championship gets under way in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Friday. Six of the nine qualifiers will also be appearing in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, which takes place in Qatar next year, and five of them will be taking part in this November’s 20th edition of the Gulf Cup in Yemen, raising the stakes further in a tournament that continues to gain in stature.
First held in Amman in 2000, the competition is the brainchild of the President of the Jordan Football Association, HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who invited the region’s countries to come together to form the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) and to compete in a tournament of benefit to all its members.
Four teams have dominated the WAFF Championship since its inception: Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. The Iranians have won it on four occasions, while Iraq are the only side to break their monopoly, emerging triumphant in 2002. Jordan and Syria have both finished runners-up twice.
It could well be a different story this year, however, with the participation of Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait making for a stronger field. Although some nations will not be fielding full-strength line-ups, the battle for the 2010 title promises to be intense all the same.
The format has been changed this year, with the nine participating nations being drawn into three pools of three. Reigning champions Iran are the seeds in Group A, which also features Bahrain and Oman. Jordan, Syria and Kuwait have been drawn into Group B, while Iraq, Yemen and Palestine face off in Group C.
The winners of each section will advance to the semi-finals along with the best runner-up, who will face the top team in Group B, with the victors of groups A and C fighting it out for the other place in the final.
The host nation
Runners-up in 2002 and 2008 and defeated semi-finalists on the three other occasions the competition has been staged, Jordan will not be lacking in motivation on home soil. The side’s Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad is considered one of Asia’s best and enhanced his reputation by reviving Jordan’s faltering qualification bid for next year’s Asian Cup, eventually steering the team to second place in their group, enough to secure a ticket to Qatar.
The attack-minded Jordanians have impressed in their warm-up games, beating reigning Asian champions Iraq 4-1 and downing Bahrain 2-0, results that back up their coach’s claim that they have what it takes to win the event for the first time.
2000: The inaugural West Asian Football Federation Championship was held in Amman and featured an eight team-field, with guests Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan joining WAFF member nations Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Syria and Palestine. Iran claimed the maiden title by overcoming Syria in the final.
2002: Staged in Damascus, the competition featured only six teams: Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Iran, Lebanon and hosts Syria. Jordan and Iraq served up a five-goal thriller in the final, with the Jordanians taking an early 2-0 lead only for the Iraqis to force extra time with a late equaliser and snatch a winner at the end of the first period.
2004: Hosting the tournament for the first time, Iran would reach their second final, where they once again faced Syria. Using the competition to prepare for the Asian Cup in China later that year, the Iranians ran out easy winners, overpowering the Syrians 4-1. Jordan completed the podium after defeating Iraq 3-1 in the third-place match.
2007: Scheduled to take place in Lebanon, the competition was postponed for a year due to the 2006 war before finally being held in Jordan. Neighbours Iran and Iraq met in the final and although the Iraqis fielded the team that would win the Asian title just a few weeks later, the Iranians managed to retain the trophy with a side lacking several first-choice players.
12: The number of matches to be played in this year’s tournament.
9: The number of teams taking part, a tournament record.
4: The number of times Iran have won the competition.
3: The number of times Jordan has hosted the event, the previous two occasions coming in 2000 and 2007.