“It’s going to be an exciting year and we’ll be trying to achieve our objective of qualifying for the Women’s World Cup,” Stephanie Al Naber, the captain of Jordan’s women’s team, told FIFA.com, expressing her growing sense of anticipation at the prospect of playing in the next AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which her country will host in April 2018. The continental finals will provide the skipper with an opportunity to cap her long career with a trip to the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.
Al Naber comes from a family with close ties to the game. Her father is a director at the club Shabab Al-Ordon and her brother Yousef also plays for Jordan and for Al-Faisaly, one of the country’s leading teams. Proud to be part of a footballing dynasty, she has caught the eye during her career with the impressive shooting skills she has developed with her left foot, having taken up the sport at a very early age, alongside her brother and his friends in the street.
After then joining her school team, she gradually made her way in the game, playing an important part in the emergence of women’s football in Jordan and becoming one of the mainstays of the national team following its creation in 2005. Not content with all of that, she was also the first Jordanian woman to play football abroad, plying her trade in Denmark, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.
An enticing prospect
Along with some of her team-mates, Al Naber attended the draw for the Women’s Asian Cup 2018 qualifiers in Amman a few days ago. Though Jordan are guaranteed a place in the competition as hosts, the players were still excited at what the draw brought for them, as Al Naber explained: “We’ve already qualified, but there were two things that we were interested in: we wanted to find out who we’re playing in Group A, because the Asian Confederation have allowed us to take part in the qualifiers. We also followed how the other groups turn out. Some of the big teams have been drawn together, but only one of them will be going through to the finals. It’s a good thing for us, as it’ll give us more chance of qualifying for the World Cup.
“There are at least two competitive teams in each of the four groups,” continued Al Naber. “Korea Republic and Korea DPR are both in Group B, so one of them will be going out, and it’s the same with Vietnam and Myanmar in Group D and Thailand and Chinese Taipei in Group C.
“All these teams have more history in the Asian Cup than we do, and the fewer of them that are there, then the more chance we’ll have of going through. We know that we’ll be one of the top seeds in the group phase of the Asian Cup and that reigning champions Japan will be, too. The draw will maybe allow us to avoid Australia and China PR in the first round, and I think we’ll definitely have a chance of making it to the World Cup.”
A learning curve
Al Naber has been part of all the big occasions Jordan’s national team has experienced since 2005. As well as helping her country win three West Asia Women’s Championship titles and an Arabia Cup crown, she has played at the last three Asian Games (in 2006, 2010 and 2014) and also featured in the side that qualified for the Women’s Asian Cup for the first time in Jordan’s history in 2014.
“We were all determined to win through to our first Asian Cup,” recalled Al Naber. “Our preparations for the qualifiers were perfect and we achieved our objective. We were so happy, but we didn’t do so well when we got to the finals. We lost 3-1 to Vietnam in our first match and then we went down by the same scoreline to Australia. I scored our goal in that game, but then we went and lost heavily to Japan in our last game.
“They were big defeats, especially the one against Japan, but you have to remember that it was our first appearance in the competition and that the Japanese won the World Cup in 2011 and the Australians were Asian champions in 2010. We saw some big scorelines at the World Cup in Canada in 2015, some of them as big as 10-0, so it was only to be expected that we’d get those kinds of results following our inadequate preparation.”
Leaving nothing to chance
Drawing her conclusions from all those experiences, Al Naber said: “There are eight players in our team who were in the side in 2005, while the others have come in at a later stage. We need to make the most of the experience we’ve picked up and to focus on qualifying for the World Cup. It won’t be easy, but we’re going to step up our preparations in the next 14 months so we can give ourselves a better chance.
"The Jordanian FA is going to help us develop by setting up training camps, which will give us the opportunity to progress with our fitness and skills. We’re also going to be playing matches against sides who are better than us. We’re not scared of Japan or Australia, or of the European national teams and clubs. Those are the matches we need to play if we want to be ready when the time comes.
“I’d really love to be able to go back a few years and take part in the U-17 Women’s World Cup, which we hosted a few months ago,” she continued. “The atmosphere was fantastic. I went to most of the games, and the fans filled the stadiums and supported the Jordanian players all the way. We hope they’ll be giving us all their support and help us reach our objective. This competition is our legacy and we have to use it to build a bright future.”
World Cup hopes
Giving voice to her wildest dreams, Al Naber said: “Since we found out that we were hosting the Asian Cup, the players have been making predictions the whole time, talking about the other teams and asking how we’re going to get one of the five tickets to the World Cup. These qualifiers will be a great reward for all these years of hard work.”
An avid football follower for most of her life, Al Naber added: “I don’t usually miss the big competitions. The whole team was right there in the stadiums at Germany 2011. The atmosphere was fantastic. And at the last World Cup in Canada, I kept a close eye on all the little skills, the players’ performances and the tactics.”
Revealing her other allegiances in the game, she said: “I’m a fan of Brazil and France. Brazil have got a lot of talented players, including Marta. She does what she wants on the pitch. She’s got amazing technique and she’s managed to stay at the same high level for more than a decade. As for France, their game’s all about playing as a team. I’m a big fan of Louisa Necib Cadamuro, who reminded me of Zinedine Zidane. As for Carli Lloyd of the USA, what she did at the World Cup, and especially in the Final, was just out of this world. She walked away with all the trophies and became the world’s biggest star.”
Lacking nothing in motivation, Al Naber and her team-mates will be doing all they can to be in the best possible shape for next year’s Women’s Asian Cup, where they will hope to do Jordanian women’s football proud and perhaps even fulfil their dream of making history by qualifying for France 2019.