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Hossam Hassan’s Jordan set for ultimate challenge against Uruguay

On September 10 of this current year, Hossam Hassan’s Jordan scraped past Uzbekistan in front of their fans to seal a historic place in the final play-offs – the furthest they’ve been yet on the World Cup trail. It’s a historic milestone for the ‘Nashama’, who have gone a long way making significant progress over the last decade or so. The team has defeated and frustrated the likes of Asian heavyweights in the form of Japan and Australia along the way, but tomorrow night –  in the first of two legs –  the Nashama face a date with destiny against a team of a different ammo, breadth and class: Uruguay, the reigning South American champs.

It’s a challenge Al-Nashama have never faced before: a former World Cup champion with a long and glorious footballing past, who have given birth to the likes of Enzo Francescoli – a favorite of the great Zinedine Zidane – and current star player and talisman, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. The Celeste are currently ranked 6th in the world by FIFA, 64 places above their opponents, highlighting the gargantuan task ahead for Jordan manager ’s side. Uruguay are the overwhelming favorites and on paper, they shouldn’t find much trouble in sealing their place in Rio de Janeiro.

With the wealth of talent Uruguay has on store, particularly their front three consisting of aforementioned star man Luis Suarez – who topped the charts in the South American qualifiers with 11 goals – PSG’s Edinson Cavani and long-time veteran Diego Forlan, ‘Mission Impossible’ seems an understatement for the Nashama. They don’t match them in terms of experience, prestigious and – arguably – quality. But stranger things have happened in football and we can’t discount the Nashama just yet.

Jordan, led by aforementioned Egyptian legend Hossam Hassan, have prepared themselves for the daunting task ahead with fixtures at home against the likes of Nigeria and Zambia – edging past both by a single goal. These wins should boost morale ahead of tomorrow’s clash, but did the duo present a formidable and solid challenge? I’m not so sure. To be honest, I had hoped that Hassan and the hierarchy would’ve arranged a match with a South American side of similar ilk such as Chile, who have sealed automatic progression to next year’s World Cup and possess a quality frontline with Barca star, Alexis Sanchez, at the forefront. However, despite my pessimism, Uruguay aren’t totally invincible and the Nashama have options at hand that can pose a serious threat to their more illustrious opponents.

Despite their top quality frontline, the Celeste’s defence is not something to be admired. It’s shaky and soft, particularly in the center led by Diego Lugano, whose career has been on the wane since he was rendered surplus to requirements by former club, PSG. This soft core is the key reason for Uruguay’s failure to seal an automatic spot in Brazil, where they conceded 25 goals in 16 matches during the course of their campaign.

This weakness is something Hossam Hassan’s men must exploit. In Ahmed Hayel – who has grabbed 7 goals so far on the qualifying trail – the Nashama possess a useful outlet in the penalty area, who – with his constant, non-stop movement and trickery – can keep the likes of Lugano on his toes and hopefully take advantage of the odd mistake presented to him. He disappointed in the two-legged fixture against Uzbekistan, and Jordanian supporters would be hoping for a return to his old self up against a team of such magnitude.

In midfield, the likes of Saeed Murjan, Khalil Bani Ateyah, Abdullah Deeb, and Odai Al Saifi will be relied upon to inject some creativity, vitality and provide the frontline with something to build on, especially without key men – Amer Deeb and Hasan Abdul Fatah. And last but not least, the Jordanian defence – led by the returning Hatem Aqel – will need to be on constant alert and display an incredible amount of resilience in the face of a world-class frontline. The task seems more arduous without the presence of reliable custodian, Amer Shafi, who is suspended for tomorrow’s clash while the ever-present defender Anas Bani Yaseen is a doubt.

Al-Nashama face their biggest challenge yet and will need to produce the best 180+ minutes of their lives, but I’m not sure that would even be enough. We shall await and see.

Omar Almasri is the owner of the world football website O-Posts, you can follow him on Twitter @OAlmasri.

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