More than a goal for Jordan

Maysa Jbarah scores first-ever Asian Games goal for Jordanian women as glimmer of hope comes out of 10-1 defeat to Chin

Even the biggest football fan could be forgiven for missing the most momentous goal so far at the Asian Games here in Guangzhou.

A long-range strike from Jordan’s Maysa Jbarah on Sunday came sandwiched in the middle of 10 goals for their opponents, China –  a powerhouse of women’s football in Asia and the hosts of this tournament of 42 sports and 12,000 athletes.

The 21-year-old’s goal was Jordan’s first at an Asian Games, coming four years after the team conceded 30 and scored none at their first appearance at the competition in Doha.

The quality of the finish – and the way the chance was created by fellow Amman-born strike partner Shahnaz Jebreen – showed that Jordan can have a future in a sport where the gulf in class between the top and bottom sides can produce brutal scorelines.

As China’s coach Li Xiaopeng said after the teams’ opening Group A match: “Our girls did a good job, but Jordan’s one goal is more important than our 10 goals.”

Beyond goals scored, the wider perspective should take in the fact that young women starting out in the sport in Jordan now have heroes they can look up to.

The 18-year-old Jebreen, one of two members of Sunday’s starting line-up to wear a headscarf, not only has lightning pace but moves intelligently and uses her skill on the ball to create good positions for her team.

Jebreen is no headless chicken. And if she can continue to cause problems for seasoned defences like China’s, she can be a talisman for Jordan over what they hope will be the next 15 years of steady improvement.

They have a new coach in Dutchwoman Hesterine Dereus, a positive realist who knows exactly where Jordan are in the scale of things, and exactly where she wants to take them.

But much like the medieval bricklayer who realises he will never live to see the completion of his cathedral or castle, Dereus is probably aware she is only the beginning of Jordan’s journey.

“We want to be in the top position, but we know where we are, and we are very far from China,” the former Netherlands international said on Sunday, before putting the result against a football-loving nation of 1.3 billion into some context.

“There are only 360 (female) players in Jordan. I don’t know how many there are in China but I think it is more than that.

“Jebreen is disappointed that we lost, but she doesn’t understand that we are playing against the best and it is not enough to be fast and dangerous.”

After a solo run saw Jebreen have a decent shot on target a few minutes earlier, the diminutive teenager hared onto a long ball in the 19th minute, beating the last defender and forcing the China goalkeeper Zhang Yanru into a hasty clearance which Jbarah calmly popped straight back over Zhang’s head.

The strike made it 4-1 at that stage, but few goals when so far behind can have been celebrated with such glee.

One thing a developing team needs is stability, and the Jordanian football authorities would do well to keep hold of Dereus in these times when one bad result can mean the sacking of a coach.

Jordan will have many, many bad results before they can start turning improved performances into good scorelines. But they are not alone.

Vietnam lost 6-1 to South Korea on Sunday, and Thailand lost 4-0 to Japan in a score that looks relatively low for women’s football. That’s 22 goals in three matches, with Jordan still to face the Koreans and Vietnamese, and Thailand coming up against defending champions North Korea.

Incidentally, the men’s Jordan under-23 team finished bottom of their own Asian Games group having managed only one draw in three matches. That came against Palestine, who picked up their first point at an Asian Games but have never scored.

Barring a miracle, Jordan women’s goalkeeper Misda Ramounieh will be picking many more balls out of her net before the end of the group matches in Guangzhou, but the players will also hope to pick out the positives.

“We indeed lost by a landslide but it was not unexpected,” goalscorer Jbarah said about their first match.

“We are better than we used to be though. Football means everything to us and I’m just happy to have scored.”