By Patrick Johnston
(Reuters) - Injuries and suspensions have toughened the already daunting task for underdogs Jordan ahead of their World Cup playoff against Uruguay but they are daring to dream of another shock and a first appearance in the finals.
The two meet in the first leg of the intercontinental playoff at the Amman International Stadium on Wednesday (1500GMT) with the South Americans expected to sweep aside the Jordanians, who have exceeded all expectations in making it this far.
Jordan bounced back from a 6-0 mauling by Japan and a 4-0 hammering by Australia in Asian qualifying to shock the Blue Samurai and the Socceroos at home and sneak into a playoff with Uzbekistan, which they edged 9-8 on penalties in September to set up the Uruguay tie.
Plucky and organized on their home turf, Jordan have enjoyed great success from set pieces with the pace and trickery of Ahmad Ibrahim, who scored a brilliant solo effort in the 2-1 win over Japan. Abdullah Deeb Salim and Odai Al-Saify are also a threat going forward.
But Uruguay, twice world champions and fourth last time in South Africa, are a far greater proposition than anyone Jordan have faced along the long road through qualifying, which has taken them to Nepal, Singapore, China, Iraq and many others.
The South Americans boast formidable firepower in Edinson Cavani, of Paris St Germain, and Luis Suarez of Liverpool with much-traveled Diego Forlan now of Internacional, Brazil, a handy substitute.
Jordan's attempts to thwart them are hindered by the suspension of goalkeeper Amer Shafi, the hero against Uzbekistan, while captain and experienced midfielder Amer Deeb will also be absent having been surprisingly left out of the squad.
Attacking midfielder Hasan Abdul Fattah is another deemed surplus to requirements by Jordan coach Hossan Hassam, who has injury concerns over defenders Mohammad Al-Dmeiri and Anas Bani Yaseen ahead of easily the biggest match in their history.
Few give the Jordanians much hope of winning over the two-legged qualifier. They have never been so far in World Cup qualifying and have only twice made it to the last eight of the Asian Cup. But the squad have belief.
"Our main weapon will be our motivation against prestigious opponents who have won the World Cup and are among the best teams in the world," Salim told FIFA.com.
"All the players selected by the coach for these two matches will give their all. We have to believe because everything is possible in football."
He was not alone.
"Nothing is impossible in football, and we have the right to dream," Jordan midfielder Baha Suleiman added.
The Uruguayans also boast experience at this nerve-jangling final playoff stage - which FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently spoke of scrapping - having clinched places at the 2002 and 2010 World Cups via it, but also suffering the heartache of defeat to Australia in 2005.
Coach Oscar Tabarez and his staff plus a handful of home-based players trained in Turkey until Monday, but goalkeeper Fernando Muslera did not travel, ruled out of the first leg with a fractured toe.
The coach warned his squad, the bulk of which served him so well in South Africa, against being complacent when they take on their opponents, who are ranked 70th in the world.
"I have no doubt the match against Jordan will be difficult," Tabarez said before leaving Uruguay.
"We've studied our opponents and whoever thinks Jordan is Tahiti, that's their problem," he said in reference to their 8-0 win over the Oceania side in the Confederations Cup in June.
(Additional reporting by Rex Gowar Editing by Tony Goodson)