Jordan and Uruguay will meet in Amman on Wednesday night to contest the first leg of their AFC-CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying play-off. The hosts qualified for this contest having bested Uzbekistan in the Asian play-off, while Uruguay missed out on qualification from the South American pool and reached this play-off by virtue of finishing in fifth spot.
Naturally, La Celeste, South America’s reigning champions, are overwhelming favourites, but the motivation for Jordan to make unlikely history is a large enough factor not to make this a foregone conclusion. This editorial examines what the Asian side must do to upset their illustrious opponents.
Naturally, heading into a clash with a team ranked over 60 places above them in the FIFA World Rankings, Jordan will be tempted to play reactively, that is to set up defensively, to remain resolute and attempt to catch Uruguay on the break. While they will surely stay tight and adopt aspects of this response, I would urge the Jordanian side not to forsake the qualities that have underpinned their return to prominence within the international arena.
Initially, I would say that the side should try and preserve the mental strength that served them so well in the Asian play-off against Uzbekistan. Having only managed a 1-1 draw in the first leg at home, Jordan were outsiders for the second match—a showdown in Tashkent.
When the Uzbeks scored in the fifth minute, Brazil must have seemed like little more than a distant dream for the Jordanian side.
Saaed Al Murjan spliced open an ugly, tetchy contest with a moment of genuine class on the stroke of half time. His sumptuous 30-yard volley drew the two sides level and gave Jordan the belief that they could upset the odds.
The side managed to battle their way through extra time (and a power cut that threatened to curtail the clash) before facing the lottery of a penalty shootout.
Again, however, Jordanian resiliency proved formidable. The Brave Gentlemen overcame missing the fifth penalty, the kick that would have been decisive, and held their nerve through sudden death to win 9-8 on penalties.
Over a minimum of 180 minutes against Uruguay, Jordan will surely encounter hardship and misfortune, they will doubtless be tested to their limits and find themselves staring into the abyss.
It is imperative, however, that the Asian side do not crumble when faced with the inevitable pressure that will come their way—if they can recall the resolve that served them so well against Uzbekistan, then they will stand a much better chance of remaining competitive when faced with the South American giants.
Home form is another factor that should be considered ahead of tomorrow’s clash. During qualification, and in the subsequent months, Jordan’s form at Amman has been exceptional. Africa’s last two champions, Nigeria and Zambia, were both beaten 1-0 before a home crowd, while Oman, Japan and Singapore have all been defeated in 2013.
Normally, sides prefer home advantage for the second leg, but in this instance, it may be preferable for Jordan to welcome Uruguay to Amman before heading to Montevideo.
If they can stifle and frustrate Uruguay before their home support they may, crucially, be able to ensure that the tie remains a contest by the half-way point. The buoyant home support for that first 90 minutes may prove to be invaluable and Jordan will need to summon the spirit of triumphs over Australia and China, as well as those aforementioned teams, in order to stand a chance.
If they can do that, then the Uruguayans might cast their minds back to their horrific failure against Australia during the CONMEBOL-OFC Intercontinental play-off in qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
By contrast, their away form is disastrous and a genuine cause for concern. While Uruguay may hate playing on the uneven Amman tuft, they will relish the prospect of welcoming Jordan back to the Estadio Centenario. In recent times the Brave Gentlemen have been on the wrong side of a 6-0 defeat in Japan and a 4-0 rout at the hands of Australia.
Back in June, when Adnan Hamad was still at the helm, Uruguay would have been boldly confident of outdoing even Japan and Australia. Since iconic former Egypt international Hossam Hassan has taken over, however, the side’s defensive record has improved.
The absence of Fernando Muslera, missing due to a broken finger as per Reuters via Yahoo Sport, will be cause for concern for Uruguay, and could be something Jordan can exploit. The Galatasaray man is a fine stopper and the country’s undisputed number one. However, in his absence, Olimpia’s Martin Silva or Penarol’s Juan Castillo are unlikely to inspire the same confidence.
Finally, Jordan might take solace when considering the record of other nations facing political besiegement back home. The nation currently finds itself being drawn into the dispute ravaging neighbouring Syria. According to James Corbett in World Soccer Magazine (November 2013 edition), 1,000 refugees flood into the country daily and such an intense flow of foreigners is taking its toll on the nation.
In situations like this, a national side can become a beacon for a country and, in many ways, can play a cathartic role for a populace under siege. Libya’s qualification for the 2012 Cup of Nations and Iraq’s triumph at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup when in the midst of a sectarian war.
Could the problems in the dusty refugee camps and on tense, anxious border controls spur the team on to unite the nation through their performances against Uruguay?
Stranger things have happened!