The biggest sports event to be hosted in Jordan — the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup — kicked off on Friday in Amman with a series of firsts for the Kingdom and region.
Not only was this the nation’s first appearance at the U-17 Women’s World Cup, it was Jordan’s first appearance at any level at a FIFA World Cup. It was also the first time that a women’s tournament of this scale has been hosted in the Middle East region.
After a simple but exhilarating opening ceremony and the entire nation rallying behind Team Jordan the U-17 Women’s World Cup provided some distraction and thrill to a region where neighbours are suffering from a humanitarian crises and devastation.
Several members of the Royal family attended the opening ceremony and legendary Spanish footballer Xavi Hernandez was in the stands to attend his country’s match against the hosts.
Children joined their parents and football fans as Amman International Stadium was filled to near full capacity in what was a day for celebration for Jordan regardless of match results. The fans were treated to the official song by Lebanese singer Carol Samaha joining Jordan’s Hussein Salman with fireworks lighting up the skies over the stadium which got a full facelift in preparation for the tournament.
Very well-organised security and seating made the opening day momentous. Jordan’s inexperienced team was no match for their opponents and the eventual 6-0 defeat to European champs and U-17 runner-up Spain seemed secondary. Opening day also saw Canada beat Cameroon in 3-2, Germany beat Venezuela 2-1 and Mexico blasted past New Zealand 5-0.
Her Majesty Queen Rania stressed the importance of hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which she described as “a historic, national achievement and source of pride for all Jordanians”. The Queen met players at practice earlier this summer and threw her support behind the tournament. She also signed a ball to be used in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup as observers hope the tournament will provide much needed competitive experience for the team Jordanian squad and provide a big boost to women’s sports in general.
“I have to be honest. We came up against a very strong and experienced team. And it was also our first game at this level. They kept the ball out of reach, created several good chances and scored a lot of goals. They could have won by more,” Jordan coach Robbie Johnson told the media after the opener.
“We missed an opportunity right at the start that might have changed things. My players will need to learn some lessons from this game, but we’ve got two days to correct our mistakes before our second match,” he added.
Several observers noted that the event should have been marketed and highlighted further as Jordan hosts a FIFA World Cup for the next 21 days. “I noticed billboards are all in Arabic and no banners filling the streets to draw locals attention that a major event is under way. For those arriving at the airports, or even near stadiums, I think it should be more visible and highlighted to all,” noted a fan.
The 32 matches over the course of 22 days will be hosted at four stadia: Amman International Stadium, King Abdullah II Stadium in Quweismeh, Al Hassan Stadium in Irbid and Prince Mohammad Stadium in Zarqa. Jordan will be playing its matches in different governorates on Fridays with the second match slated against Mexico in Irbid on October 3 and New Zealand on October 7 in Zarqa.
Jordan is the only Arab team at the U-17 World Cup after Egypt and Morocco were eliminated from the qualifiers. Cameroon is the other country to never have previously participated in the U-17 World Cup.
The draw put the 16 teams into four groups with the top two teams from each group moving on to Round 2.
In addition to Group A, competing teams are Group B: Venezuela, Germany, Cameron and Canada; Group C: Nigeria, Brazil, England and North Korea; and Group D: US, Paraguay, Ghana and titleholders Japan.
Round 1 ends October 8 following which the quarters will be played on October 12-13, the semis on October 17 and the final on October 21.
In Saturday matches, Japan romped Ghana 5-0, Brazil edged Nigeria 1-0, the US beat Paraguay 6-1 and England drew 3-3 with North Korea.
By Aline Bannayan
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