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Local, regional football agenda in chaos due to COVID-19

By Aline Bannayan - Mar 14,2020 - Last updated at Mar 14,2020

AMMAN — With the world’s sporting agenda disrupted with precautionary measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, Jordan’s national football team, as well as clubs taking part in regional qualifiers have not been spared the crisis.

Governing bodies of Asian and world football have halted upcoming qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, prompting the national team to suspend its upcoming training camp in Qatar as the team prepared for their match against Kuwait in Group B set for March 31 before facing Nepal on June 4 and Australia on June 9. 

Australia currently leads the group with 12 points from four wins and has nearly secured the top qualifying spot while Jordan is now third after they beat Taiwan 5-0. In earlier matches, Jordan lost 1-0 to Australia, beat Taiwan 2-1, world’s 161st ranked Nepal 3-0 and held Kuwait 0-0. 

The top team from each of the eight competing groups and four best second place finishers will move to the 2023 Asian Cup finals and Round 3 of World Cup qualifiers.

Jordan’s unsteady performances had worried football analysts who joined fans in calling on the Jordan Football Association (JFA) to terminate the contract of Belgian coach Vital Borkelmans who was brought in as an assistant and seems to have not been able to put the team on the winning path.

Apart from official competitions, the team was not any better in friendlies nor were they able to go beyond 97th in FIFA throughout the past year. In latest FIFA World Rankings, Jordan remained at 97th and 16th in the continent lagging behind relatively uncompetitive Asian teams.

Since first taking part in Asian Cup qualifiers in 1972, Jordan reached the Asian Cup finals four times. The highlight was at the 13th Asian Cup in 2004 when it lost to Japan in the quarter-finals and jumped to the best ever FIFA rank of 37th Jordan also reached the Asian Cup in 2011 and 2015 and 2019. In the last edition, Jordan reached the Round of 16.

On the world scene, the national team’s peak performance was in 2013 when the team was on the verge of qualifying to the 2014 World Cup for the first time and advanced to play then World’s 6th ranked Uruguay in an intercontinental qualifying tie. The Kingdom had never reached that far in World Cup qualifying since first taking part in qualifiers. Round 3 had been the furthest Jordan reached in the past seven times since 1986 qualifiers.

In 2019, Jordan finished runner-up to Bahrain at the 9th West Asian Championship. It was the fourth time for Jordan in the final after 2002, 2008 and 2014.  Iran won the title for the fourth time in 2008. Iraq won the title once in 2002, Kuwait in 2010, Syria in 2012 and Qatar in 2014 and Bahrain in 2019. 


Asian agenda on hold


Regionally competitions are also in limbo. Jordan’s Faisali and Jazira, who are playing the 17th AFC Cup — the second-tier Asian club competition — had their last matches set for March 9 and 10 postponed. So far, Faisali are last in Group B after they lost to Lebanon’s Ansar 4-3 and held Syria’s Wathba 0-0. Jazira remained last in Group C after they lost 2-0 to Bahrain’s Riffa’ SC and 1-0 to Oman’s Dhofar. 

After an impressive local season, Jazira were close to winning the 2018/19 AFC Cup title last year but they failed to make it to the competition final after they lost the West Asia zone final to Lebanon’s Ahed who eventually won the title. Wihdat were eliminated in the semis of the West Asia zone.

It has been 13 years since Jordanian teams won the AFC Cup. Faisali won in 2005 and 2006 and Shabab Urdun in 2007. Other Jordanian teams participating in previous editions include Ramtha, Hussein, That Ras and Ahli. Kuwait Club and the Iraqi Air Force Club are AFC Cup record winners having been crowned champs three times each.

In the continents’ leading competition — the AFC Champions League — Faisali were eliminated by Kuwait Club in the preliminary round. Similarly, Shabab Urdun were eliminated from the Round of 16 of the Arab Club Champions Cup.


Local agenda postponed


In addition to COVID-19 fears, the current local season is also on hold after teams played one round in the Jordan Professional Football League following which 11 clubs announced they were suspending participation in the league as the JFA downsized prize money compounded by noticeable officiating mistakes.

Club representatives met JFA officials, and the second week was put on hold while clubs contemplate the idea of forming an association for future regulation of the event. Teams have been reeling with lack of sponsors, injuries and lack of momentum after a long break as the kick-off was delayed for nearly six months for 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup national team qualifiers. 

After the JFA’s main sponsor, the Manaseer Group, ended its 10-year sponsorship last year, the JFA has noticeably downsized prize money for the league champ from JD120,000 to JD60,000, and the runner-up from JD80,000 to JD30,000. Similarly, the Jordan Cup champs will get JD30,000 down from JD57,000. The Super Cup and Shield winners prize was also slashed to JD25,000.

The season recently kicked off with Wihdat beating Ramtha to win the 33rd Jordan Football Association Shield. It was Wihdat’s record 10th Shield title while Ramtha, who have not won a major competition recently, last won the Jordan Cup in 1990-1991 and the Shield in 2001.

On the other hand, Faisali beat Jazira to win the 37th Jordan Super Cup — the second major competition on the annual football calendar. The Super Cup has now been won by Faisali a record 17 times out of 25 final appearances, Wihdat have won 13 times, Ramtha and Shabab Urdun twice each, while Jazira, Hussein and Ahli won once each.

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