Wednesday 03 June 2020, 05:22

Bani Yaseen: We'll fight until the end

  • Bani Yaseen is one of Jordan’s top defenders

  • He is based in Qatar where World Cup preparations are underway

  • Player speaks about Al Nashama’s chances in Asian qualifiers

Asia's second qualifying round for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ was more than half complete when COVID-19 brought a halt to international football in March. When the action eventually resumes, several fiercely contested groups will ensure the race for the 12 available final round places is sure to be exciting.

For their part, Jordan know they may well require maximum points from their three remaining fixtures, all away from home, against Kuwait, Nepal and Australia. With Al Nashama currently in third place, behind Kuwait on goal difference and only two points adrift of the pacesetting Socceroos, they will need their top players available and at their best if they are to avoid a repeat of their Russia 2018 campaign, which ended at the group stage.

Versatile defender Anas Bani Yaseen is one of those players Jordanians will be pinning their hopes on. Inextricably linked to many of the country’s finest achievements, he was captain of the youth team that reached the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007™, scored the goal that secured Jordan a spot at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and was Al Nashama’s hero in their historic win against Australia in their opening match of the 2019 edition of the continental finals.

Bani Yaseen is currently based in Qatar, where he has been isolating since the football season was suspended. With games set to restart in July, the 31-year old made time to sit down with ahead of a return to training with Al Markhiya, who he joined at the beginning of the year.

Patience and perseverance

Like many players, Bani Yaseen has had to endure his COVID confinement in Doha without the support of family members after international flights there were suspended.

“Yes, this is perhaps the most difficult period of my professional career," he said. "It’s true that I’ve had many playing stints abroad, but on those occasions most of my time was devoted to training and matches. During this pandemic, I’ve had to be very patient. I’ve been exercising at home to maintain my fitness until we can play competitive games again. I also tried to cook some Jordanian meals and think I did a good job, thanks to the help I received from family via video calls.

"With this crisis, everyone just had to persevere and be patient, as no one knew when it would end. But now, thank God, the pandemic is being contained, and football has resumed in some places. Here we’ll soon return to training under strict health guidelines before the domestic season resumes towards the end of next month,” the 31-year old added.

After a short stint in IR Iran with Foolad, Bani Yaseen returned to his home country before signing for Al Markhiya, who compete in Qatar’s second division.

“It’s a great opportunity to play in the country that will host the next World Cup. Whenever I embark on a new experience overseas, I set several goals for myself," he explained. "At present Al Markhiya are doing well in the league and we’re hoping to get back into the Qatar Stars League, which is one of the best in the Arab world. Moreover, we’ve done well in the Emir Cup, where we beat Al Gharafa and Al Rayyan, and we have an important game against Al Arabi, which we’ll do our best to win in order to make the final."

Battling in qualifiers

Al Nashama had an ideal start to 2019, topping their group at the Asian Cup, where they upset Australia thanks to Bani Yaseen’s fantastic header. Despite then being eliminated by Vietnam in the round of 16, Jordanian fans were optimistic their side would make a strong start to the Qatar 2022 qualifiers. However, the West Asian side have dropped five points in their opening five games, the result of a defeat to Australia and a draw with Kuwait, both on home soil.

"In qualifiers like these and given the fact that we have Kuwait and Australia in our group, there is no margin for error. Unfortunately, we made some silly mistakes that cost us all three points against Australia. Moreover, luck wasn’t on our side. We had many chances but failed to convert them."

Bani Yaseen took part in the first three games against Chinese Taipei, Kuwait and Nepal but was on the bench for Australia and their home fixture against Chinese Taipei. "Of course, I always want to play and do my best for the team and the fans, but when the coach decides not to use you in some games, you have to respect that and support your team-mates."

No more errors

With Jordan’s three remaining games all away from home, no one is under any illusion about the enormity of the task ahead of them. They first face Kuwait and then Nepal before the showdown with Australia that could decide who reaches the final round.

Asked about the upcoming phase, Bani Yaseen said: "Yes, we realise there’ll be no margin for error in these games. We have to win all of them to qualify as group leaders. Maybe the order of the games will be in our favour since we’ll face Kuwait after we know the result of their game against Australia. I think our final fixture against Australia will be critical and we’ll do our utmost and fight until the last breath."

Because of the COVID-enforced changes to both this and next season’s schedules, some players will have the benefit of this additional period of preparation as well as almost uninterrupted play until next summer. For his part, Bani Yaseen will be one of the best prepared members of his national team thanks to the fiercely competitive nature of the Qatari second division.

"Yes, it’s been announced that the competition will resume at the end of July and take about a month. Then just a few days after its conclusion, the new season will start. This will keep players mentally and physically fit. We’ll need several weeks to regain match fitness, but it will happen."

Once the action resumes in Qatar, Bani Yaseen will be focusing on two main goals: helping Al Markhiya to achieve further success and regaining his starting place in the Jordanian line-up for those key Qatar 2022 qualifiers.

Anas Bani Yaseen Jordan national team player