Football is, without question, the most popular sport in Jordan. Enthusiasm for the sport is evident throughout Amman; where it is not uncommon to see children kicking a ball in the streets and fans waving flags out of cars in celebration of the latest football victory.
The bulk of this ‘football fever’ is normally inspired by teams outside of Jordan. Favourites are the national teams of Brazil, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Italy and the Spanish domestic clubs: Real Madrid and Barcelona; whose respective star players Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are often the subject of heated debate and intense rivalry amongst Jordanian football fans.
However, interest in the local football scene has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks largely to the exploits of the Jordanian national football team, affectionately dubbed ‘Al-Nashama’ (loosely translated as ‘the courageous’ or ‘the heroic braves’) by its supporters.
The team is largely made up of players from the Jordan League’s two heavyweight teams: Al-Faisaly Club and Al-Wehdat SC. The two clubs have historically engaged in a fierce rivalry, which unfortunately has long been marred by crowd violence between both sets of supporters. Al-Faisaly fans mostly consist of ethnic Jordanians, whereas the fans of Al-Wehdat are mainly Palestinian refugees or those of Palestinian origin born in Jordan. The recent successes of the national team has presented a much-welcomed opportunity for this long-standing rivalry to be put on hold as fans from all across Jordan unite under the banner of ‘Al-Nashama’.
With experienced Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad at the helm, captained by the imperious Hatem Aqel and driven by the prolific goalscoring talents of Hassan Adbel Fatteh (or “Shatter Hassan”); ‘Al-Nashama’ have, for the first time in their history managed to reach the final round of the FIFA World Cup Asian qualification campaign, giving the team their best ever chance of qualifying for a World Cup.
Currently ranked by FIFA as the 80th best team in the world, Jordan’s previous successes have included twice reaching the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, in 2004 and 2011, and twice winning the football competition of the Pan Arab Games in 1997 and 1999, while finishing runners-up in 2011.
Jordan started the road to qualification for the 2014 World Cup, to be held in Brazil, in emphatic style with a 10-1 aggregate mauling of Nepal; with “Shatter Hassan” bagging an incredible 4 goals in the 9-0 victory, in front of jubilant home fans at the Amman International Stadium.
This ensured qualification to the third round where Jordan were placed in Group A with favourites China, fierce rivals Iraq and minnows Singapore. The side finished eventual runners up to Iraq in a hotly-contested group which saw the surprise elimination of the Chinese team who had previously qualified for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
Highlights of this round included a 2-0 away victory over Iraq and a shock 2-1 win over China (a first win against the Chinese in nine previous attempts), before a raucous home crowd; sparking scenes of celebration across Amman with supporters honking car horns, setting off fireworks and waving flags in the streets.
The third and final qualifying round kicked off in June 2012, with Jordan in Group B pitted against the mighty Japan and Australia, old rivals Iraq and Gulf nation Oman to battle it out for two automatic spots in the 2014 World Cup. The third-placed teams of both groups will play each other to determine the Asian participant in the intercontinental play-off against a South American opponent.
After an initial draw with Iraq, ‘Al-Nashama’ suffered its first major setback with a crushing 6-0 defeat to Japan, who appear in pole position to win the group and claim one of the two automatic qualification spots. However, with the rest of the group neatly poised; it all remains very much to play for and Jordan is still in with a chance to qualify for it’s first World Cup. Fans remain hopeful that ‘Al-Nashama’ will give them cause to celebrate with victories against Oman and Iraq in the upcoming ties, and a measure of success in either the returning home fixture against Japan or one of games against Australia.
Jordan will need to live up to it’s nickname in these upcoming tough encounters against opponents with proven World Cup experience. However, the future of Jordanian football has never looked so bright and we hope this up-and-coming young team can give the Kingdom something to cheer about by earning it’s place on the plane to Brazil in 2014. Stranger things have happened in the world of football! ‘Yalla Ya Nashama!!”