x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Jordan turn out the lights on Uzbekistan's World Cup dreams

Jordan's players and fans will not forget the greatest night in their football history after winning in Tashkent via a penalty shoot-out.

Drama. Tension. Farce.

Jordan's players and fans will not forget the greatest night in their football history anytime soon.

The second leg of the Asian play-off for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil had been billed as the biggest the kingdom has ever faced.

Seventy or so fans gathered at Dubai's Jordanian Social Club in Oud Metha to watch their heroes take on Uzbekistan in Tashkent. One way or the other, it was going to end in tears.

The home 1-1 draw in Amman had left Uzbekistan slight favourites, and those present remained cautiously optimistic their team could cause an upset. It didn't take long for the cautious optimism to turn to despair, after Anzur Ismailov scored a fifth-minute goal for the home team.

For the next 15 minutes, the Jordanian fans had little to cheer. Cigarettes were nervously puffed, and every misplaced pass greeted with groans.

Slowly, Jordan dragged themselves back into a match that, if truth were told, offered very little in terms of quality football throughout.

Three minutes before half time came the turning point – a quite sensational volley from Saeed Murjan levelled the match. Dubai's Jordanian community erupted.

"Urdun, Urdun, Urdun," they shouted. Jordan, Jordan, Jordan.

Suddenly, the Jordanian team, and fans, could afford to relax.

"You could see they were nervous at the start and the goal made things worse," fan Emad Zibda said. "Hopefully, things will be even better now. We knew that if Uzbekistan concede, all the pressure will be on them. If we score again, they need two."

Hossam Hassan's methods, suddenly, were being lauded.

"Coach Hassan has improved the team, we used to be far more defensive," another fan, Ibrahim Al Mashagwa said. "The last ten minutes were excellent I thought, they performed at a much higher level,"

The match settled into a stalemate, which suited Jordan fine.

"Now we have big chance to win now, by getting another goal or even on penalties," Al Mashagwa added.

Those words proved prophetic, although perhaps not in the way he hoped.

Normal time ended 1-1, and the drama was about to turn to farce. A floodlight failure halted the match for 18 minutes, and when action resumed, the home team piled on the pressure. But Jordan held on.

Nothing turns football fans to religion more than a shoot-out, and prayers were openly being offered, as were shouts of encouragement to the colourful figure of Amer Shafia, Jordan's goalkeeper.

Jordan converted their first effort, to wild cheers. It got better, Uzbekistan missed. Mayhem among the Jordanian fans.

And then, nothing. The live television feed was lost, and the fans, already tense far beyond what they deserved, could hardly believe what was going on. Everyone turned to their phones.

Twitter posts wrongly suggested Jordan had won 4-2 on penalties. But the celebrations were premature. The Al Jazeera network's man in Tashkent relayed the shoot-out particulars over the phone to the studio panel.

Jordan scored their ninth penalty. Shafia saved the next one. This time, the celebrations were as hysterical as they were final.

"This is the best feeling ever, I am so proud of the team," Samer Khalil, tears in his eyes, said. "Now, inshalla, we can even shock the team we play in the final play-off."

akhaled@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE