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Ambitious Jordan eye World Cup breakthrough

Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein (C) attends Jordan's 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Uzbekistan at King Abdullah stadium i
Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein (C) attends Jordan's 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Uzbekistan at King Abdullah stadium i

By Patrick Johnston

(Reuters) - Injuries, suspensions, drawn away in the second leg and up against one of the deadliest strike duos in international football - Jordan have little to be optimistic about ahead of their 'David v Goliath' World Cup playoff against Uruguay.

The ambitious West Asians are still plotting one more upset on their dream qualifying run that started against Nepal and they hope will end with a maiden World Cup finals appearance.

Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, the Jordanian FA head and FIFA vice-president, said the team, ranked 70th by the world governing body, was facing a formidable task against the South Americans.

"We have nothing to lose," he told Reuters via telephone ahead of the first leg in Amman on Wednesday.

"We are up against Uruguay, one of the top 10 in the world. In terms of our positions, it is a bit of a David v Goliath event."

Jordan's tough task of overcoming a star-studded Uruguay side ranked sixth by FIFA and featuring feared strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani is not made any easier by a series of injuries and suspensions.

"We have our key players who will not be playing, some through injury and others through cards but again you never know, anything can be done in football. We are very optimistic about it," Prince Ali said.

"We did ask FIFA as this was a new playoff, an intercontinental playoff, but they said 'no the cards remain' (from the previous round) which is fine. So our goalkeeper is out, our team captain is out and a couple of other players who are key."

Prince Ali also questioned why the Asians had to play South American opposition in the two-legged tie for a World Cup berth in Brazil next year.

Four years ago, Oceania side New Zealand overcame Asian representatives Bahrain in the intercontinental playoff to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa. FIFA, though, opted to conduct a draw with Asia handed arguably the toughest task, while Oceania faces CONCACAF.

"It's a bit unfortunate," he said. "The natural issue, for example, would be for the Asian fifth place to play the half slot from Oceania and CONCACAF to play CONMEBOL but it is opposite.

"It is tiring, and within less than a week and you are crossing huge time zones so I don't know, I think we have to rethink that issue."

VERY DIFFICULT

Money is also a problem.

A telethon campaign was hosted on local TV to help support the team, while United Arab Emirates Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum is providing a private plane to transport the players to Uruguay for the second leg in Montevideo on November 20.

"We have a ministry of education which doesn't put too much into sport, not just football, but at the end of the day it's the most popular sport and my emphasis is on trying to build infrastructure," the 37-year-old prince said.

"If you look at our region we have probably the least amount of resources going into our sport but at the end of the day we are the only ones from our region who are actually at this stage, so I'm optimistic."

Prince Ali will hope the luxurious air travel can help his side reverse some poor away form for the West Asians, who have never been so far in World Cup qualifying and have only twice reached the last eight of the Asian Cup.

They were thumped 6-0 in Japan, 4-0 in Australia and 3-1 in China but managed to beat all three on their home turf in Amman.

The poor travels were part of the reason Prince Ali and his board opted to replace Iraqi Adnan Hamad with Egyptian Hossam Hassan prior to the Uzbekistan playoff, which they won 9-8 on penalties in September to make it through to the final stage.

"There have been ups and downs. Those (away losses) were one of the reasons why our board decided on making a change because we lost every one abroad," he said of the departure of Hamad.

"I think we figured it is an opportunity for a young guy who wants to make his mark in football to do so. I think to have a younger coach who wants to do something is very important."

Hassan, who played in the 1990 World Cup and won the African Nations Cup, has, along with his twin brother and assistant Ibrahim, tightened a leaky defense and helped the team to friendly victories over Palestine, Libya, Nigeria and Zambia.

"Our new coach, he hasn't lost a match," Prince Ali said. "We qualified against Uzbekistan in a very difficult game away from home. I'm optimistic but again it's a very tough side in Uruguay but we will see.

"It all comes down to our coach and our players. I don't believe they are too worried."

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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