Jordan World Cup qualifying preview

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Photo: Jordan Football Association 
Thanks to Marin Lowe as he gives his lowdown on the Jordan side to face Taiwan this week.

Taiwan’s World Cup qualification group is quite easily sold by one of the biggest names in the continent having to travel to their shores in the coming months in the form of Asian Cup champions from four years ago, and regular World Cup qualifiers Australia heading the bill in July’s draw. While excitement is primed on welcoming some true continental stars to the National Stadium in a month, first comes a no lesser task than a Jordan side on the rise. 

Jordan a side that often fails against the best

Jordan fills a void little team really would like to join them in. Good enough, in some cases easily good enough to cruise past the lower half of Asia in qualification, but rarely up to it when the going gets tough. This alongside the unenviable position of falling behind your neighbours in the race to head to a debut World Cup becoming a repetitive nightmare, Jordanian football has settled in the shadows for some time.

Their approach to bridging the gap has usually been erratic. Rotating a host of coaches, bearing little consideration to results, searching for that immortal quick fix to ensure they live up to their lofty short term ambitions, only to look disjointed and desperate. It’s hard to shrug off an identity developed over time, yet the image of Harry Redknapp waltzing into the hot seat for less than a week in search of progression during the last WCQ cycle, to end up leaving on the wrong side of a hammering, is one that’s difficult to erase.

Remarkably, the last 12 months have been different. Foregoing a recognisable name in the dugout, former Belgian national team assistant manager Vital Borkelmans was appointed last September. A meagre CV aside from his stint under Marc Wilmots (hardly something to shout about either), little obvious knowledge of Asian football, and being appointed by one of the most ruthless FA’s in West Asia (that’s saying something), the writing was surely on the wall before his tenure had begun. Wasn’t it?

Jordan’s Asian Cup campaign proved everything but predictable though. A clear, calculated, the well-oiled plan was in full motion, directed by their general on the sideline channelling his inner Diego Simeone - dressed head to toe in black, with stylish Clark Kent rimmed glasses, Borkelmans promised to be Jordanian football’s very own Superman.

An opening win against outgoing champions Australia, followed by a second against an out of form Syria projected them through in the devilishly tenuous position as the first team to qualify for the knockout stages. From that point, in hindsight the writing was on the wall, Jordan had peaked, which so proved the case with a frustrating penalty shootout loss to another surprise package on the rise Vietnam, but exit provided more positives that concerns, with Borkelmans receiving the suitable guarantees, post-Asian Cup.

Their formation is built around Jordan’s core strength; a strong and experienced defence, yet this is no mere backs to the wall job. Deploying excellent transition merchants such as player of the group stage Yassen Al-Bakhit on the left, Yousef Al-Rawashdeh on the right, and Cypriot based Musa Al-Taamari as a false 9 roaming forward, Borkelmans’ approach was perfect to kick off with a bang.

Given their style, and their incredible recent record against Australia, while observers are tossing up the option of pitting Taiwan and Jordan against Kuwait for a runner up spot, Borkelmans will rightly feel aggrieved that his side isn’t being tipped heavier for direct progression at the top of the group.

Where they’ll fall down, however, will be when they’re tested against like-minded setups. Vietnam’s rise of late has been well documented, but despite their abundance of youth talent, the set up deployed by Park Han-seo is unapologetically reactive, and so cancelled out Jordan’s similar approach in their Asian Cup Round of 16 ties. Tipped as one of the most intriguing ties of the tournament, the proposal of two counter-attacking sides playing against one another, finally hit home to audiences around the continent 10 minutes in.

So while Jordan will fancy themselves against Australia, and ironically against a Kuwait side attempting to regain a footing back on the international stage, Taiwan could prove a similar roadblock. Far from being in the same league as Vietnam technically, Louis Lancaster has Taiwan playing to its strengths, of quick, directive attacking football but one that won't commit forward too hastily.

Borkelmans plan B is to provide a greater technical and impact type of player to the setup, players who can invent rather than reactively capitalise. The return of chief goal-getter Hamza Al-Dardour after being overlooked for the Asian Cup is an intriguing one, offering Borklemans’ a district change to the pace currently at his aid. Baha Faisal offers a similar alternative from the bench, since bolstering his career with a move to Qatar earlier this year.

While on paper Taiwan v Jordan offers little to the imagination, both teams stand at key transition points in their futures. With Australia struggling to adapt in their very own rebuilding process, it marks an early road marker to asses who, if anyone can challenge the Socceroos for the top spot.

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