46 AFC Nations were eligible to qualify for the World Cup. 40 have been eliminated while 4 have already qualified for Brazil. This leaves only 2 remaining, and they have some work to do before realizing their dream of reaching the World Cup.
Jordan and Uzbekistan have never reached the World Cup. In 2010, Uzbekistan reached the 4th round of qualifying but ultimately finished bottom of the group. Jordan’s campaign was cut short a round earlier. This time around, each team held their own. Let’s take a look at how each team ended up where they did and in a position to play the 5th place CONMEBOL side for a spot in Brazil.
The Uzbeks found no difficulty in qualifying up until the final round. They stormed through Kyrgyzstan in the 2nd round and went undefeated in a group featuring Japan, Korea DPR, and Tajikistan in the 3rd round. This is especially impressive considering 2 of those teams went to South Africa in 2010. But that all changed in the final round.
Uzbekistan went into the final matchday with a chance to qualify directly for Brazil. With a win at home over Qatar and a Korea Republic win at home over Iran they would have been in. A win over Qatar by 6 or more goals also would have qualified them directly. But despite a furious flurry of goals at the end of the match, Uzbekistan was only able to defeat Qatar by a score of 5-1. Meanwhile, in Ulsan, Korea, the Koreans backed their way into Brazil as Iran stole a road victory. This left Uzbekistan with much work to do despite being in a tremendous spot to qualify previously.
Surely, they are looking back now and wondering why they couldn’t have even gotten a point at home vs. Iran back in June of 2012. That lone point would have been enough to see them through. But that was not the case, and here they are with their dream still alive.
Uzbekistan will bring a talented, experienced side into this test. Their highest finish to date was a 4th place finish in the 2011 Asian Cup, and this time around their sights are set higher. Manager Mirjalol Qosimov was a part of the Uzbekistan side that came so close to progressing to the final play-off of Germany 2006 qualifying. Surely he will do anything to avoid the same fate this time around. Uzbekistan is currently our 5th ranked AFC side coming in at #78 in the world, which is fitting given 4 teams have qualified.
Jordan took a slightly different path to the play-off. While Uzbekistan looked the part and eventually blended into the rest of the pack, Jordan’s campaign was filled with spurts of very good and very bad. At times it looked like Jordan was a shoe-in for Brazil, and at others some questioned how this team could ever think of competing on the world’s biggest stage.
After pouring in 9 goals at home against Nepal, they simply drew away 1-1 and moved forward. After scoring 9 goals, it was never in doubt whether they would progress, but they should have done better in the 2nd leg. In the 3rd round it was more of the same. In a weak group of China, Singapore, and Iraq, they stormed out to 4 consecutive victories and clinched a spot in the 4th round. Yet again, they took their foot off the gas and dropped their final two matches by identical 3-1 scores. Such an impressive start and didn’t even finish top of the group.
Reality probably set in for Jordan when they were spanked 6-0 at Japan. With things looking bleak, focus returned and the ship started to right. This culminated in a revenge match with Jordan downing Asia’s top team 2-1. Hubris again was their downfall. Knowing they were in a great spot, they fell flat on their face losing 4-0 at Australia and things took a turn for the worse. But despite the defeat, Jordan had one final opportunity to see their campaign continue. In a must win match at home, Ahmad Hayel came through in the 58th minute to get Jordan the goal they needed. It would set up a meeting with Uzbekistan.
While Jordan’s squad is largely home-based, their roster is also full of experienced players that not only have been around, but also have been playing together for a number of years. But something is different in Jordan. Despite qualifying for the play-off, former coach Adnan Hamad decided not to renew his contract. Who knows if that is the truth or not, but in comes Egypt’s all time leading scorer Hossam Hassan to lead the team to glory. They’ve done well, winning 2 matches and drawing 1 since he’s been appointed.
Jordan is currently our #82 ranked team, which is good for 6th in Asia. How fitting that our #5 team will face our #6 team in the 5th place play-off.
Jordan vs. Uzbekistan – Amman, Jordan
Jordan has won the right to host the first match, but that may not always be a good thing. Uzbekistan’s goal here must be to at least score 1. Knowing you have an away goal in your pocket heading home is a huge confidence booster. These teams met twice last summer in Amman in a pair of friendlies and wouldn’t you know it, each team came away with a victory. Naturally the other time they met in Tashkent was a draw. It’s interesting that Uzbekistan has chosen to not play any friendlies in the build-up to this one. Considering their recent form against quality opposition on the road, this is a surprise. We think that the home advantage will be too much to overcome in a rocking King Abdullah Stadium.
Prediction: Jordan by 1
Uzbekistan vs. Jordan – Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Pictures of Pakhtakor Markaziy Stadium are difficult to come by. Pictures with fans in the stands are even more difficult. But you can be sure that when a trip to the World Cup is on the line, this place will be bumping. If Jordan is able to defeat Uzbekistan on the 6th, the sense of urgency will most definitely be there. Playing without that fire could cause some problems. Jordan has started strong before only to fall flat, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the same here. Uzbekistan is a quality side with home advantage. We expect them to fully take advantage of this one and come away with the victory.
Prediction: Uzbekistan by 1
But things do not end there. We expect things to be all level and headed to penalty kicks in Tashkent. An exciting match should continue even further. But how to decide? These teams are separated by just 4 spots in our rankings. On a neutral field, we’d expect a draw every time. But headed to PKs, we have to give the edge to the home side here. With the crowd behind them, and a likely match against either Uruguay, Peru or Venezuela on the line, we think Uzbekistan delivers and moves one step closer to Brazil.
Prediction: Uzbekistan to advance
We hope you enjoyed our preview of the AFC Play-Off. We have other previews for matches across the globe, so be sure to check them out as well and follow us on Twitter @We_Global for the latest updates. Thanks for reading.