x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

World Cup qualifiers: In a race against time, finish line in sight for Jordan

Hossam Hassan, still finding his feet as Jordan's new coach, is the man tasked with plotting a home victory on Friday before Tuesday's second leg at Tashkent. Ali Khaled reports.

Abdullah Deeb and Jordan hope to continue to get their kicks in when they face Uzbekistan on Friday night.
Abdullah Deeb and Jordan hope to continue to get their kicks in when they face Uzbekistan on Friday night.

It is the chance of a lifetime, one that the Jordanian players know they cannot pass up.

The chance to qualify for the Fifa World Cup finals for the first time is in their hands.

Having finished third behind Japan and Australia in the AFC qualifying Group B means they now face Uzbekistan over two legs to determine who will play the fifth-place side in the South American group for a place at Brazil 2014.

Hossam Hassan, still finding his feet as Jordan's new coach, is the man tasked with plotting a home victory before Tuesday's second leg in Tashkent.

The former Egypt international will know that a lead, any lead, to take from Friday night's game will be vital.

It will not be easy, but then again, nothing has been for Hassan since he unexpectedly got the job just over two months ago.

Former coach Adnan Hamad announced his resignation after the final World Cup qualifying group match against Oman, a 1-0 win that saw the team reach the Asian zone play-off for the first time.

Hassan has been thrown in at the deep end, but is relishing the challenge.

"When I signed up, I knew how tough this period would be," he told Fifa's website last week.

"It's certainly not the best time of year to be preparing a team for a big match, since early September is usually when the domestic season kicks off. It was a race against time."

Now, the time for preparation has run out. It is time to deliver against one of the continent's emerging football nations. Uzbekistan will prove very difficult opponents for Jordan, despite the inconsistency that they have shown over the last year. Finishing third in Group A after a 5-1 thrashing of Qatar has been counterbalanced by a poor start the 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign.

A scoreless home draw and a 2-1 loss to the UAE in Abu Dhabi leaves them in third place in Group E and in danger of missing out on a place in Australia.

Another indication of the health of the country's football is that their Under 17s are champions of Asia and will be challenging for the World Cup that starts in the UAE next month.

Jordan fans will also not have forgotten that it was Uzbekistan who knocked them out of the Asian Cup quarter-finals in Qatar two years ago.

At home, the Uzbeks remain a formidable team, losing only one match throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign, a 1-0 reverse to Iran in Tashkent last summer.

They are more vulnerable away from home, and Hassan will be keen to do the bulk of the work in a match he called only "the first half".

The atmosphere at King Abdullah Stadium has been a major factor in Jordan's excellent home form, inspiring wins against the two eventual qualifiers Japan and Australia, as well as the decisive victory over Oman in their last fixture.

While the coach will not be looking too far ahead, he will also be well aware that whatever the result tonight, Jordan cannot on Tuesday afford another dismal away performance like the one that saw them humiliated 4-0 by Australia last June.

The team never recovered from Mark Bresciano's early goal and a disjointed performance throughout saw them concede three second-half goals. The win against Oman a week later righted a lot of what went wrong that night in Melbourne. But then came Hamad's departure followed by Hassan's appointment a week later.

Hassan, who represented Egypt at the 1990 World Cup finals, has taken charge of only one competitive game so far, a 1-1 Asian Cup qualifier against Syria played in Tehran, and two friendlies against Palestine and Libya. For now, all the focus remains on the World Cup.

"I talk to them about what it means to win and to have the honour of representing your country at the biggest festival of football in the world," Hassan said.

"I can tell that this team have a huge desire to go all the way and achieve their dream."

Getting past Uzbekistan would still leave Jordan with the onerous task of beating one of South America's top teams, potentially continental champions Uruguay.

But for Hassan, his players and the fans, at least the dream of World Cup glory will be one step closer to becoming a reality.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

 

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