Around the World in Women's Soccer is a series that explores women's soccer in other countries. Each country will get two stories: The first will explore the country's national team, while the second will explore the country's domestic league.
When Jordan hosted the U-17 Women's World Cup in 2016, those leading the charge didn't just set out to successfully host their first senior FIFA tournament. They wanted to introduce a new era for the game in their country and across the Arab world.
"We definitely want to create awareness about the women's game and raise the profile of the game, and what better way to do it than through a World Cup," said Samar Nassar, who organized the 2016 tournament. "We also want to build the infrastructure for the game, to build more facilities for women to play and to practice this sport. And we want to engage the community through the process because you need... the community if you're going to have a long term impact."
Jordan has had a senior women's national team since 2005. They have never qualified for the World Cup or the Olympics. When the team was founded, the head coach only had about 30 players to choose from in a country of nearly 10 million people.
But the 2016 U-17 Women's World Cup redefined women's soccer in Jordan. The tournament played a massive role in altering perceptions of women and girls playing soccer, allowing the country to create a stronger framework for the women's game. In 2018, Jordan hosted the Asian Cup, which served as qualification for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
While Jordan lost all three of their games, the fact that these women were hosting and competing on a senior level was a monumental step forward.
In 2014, Jordan also played a pivotal role in convincing FIFA to repeal their ban on playing while wearing a hijab. FIFA's thinly-veiled sexism and Islamophobia had prevented Muslim women around the world from participating in the game they loved since 2007. But Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, the then-vice president of FIFA and head of the Jordan Football Association (JFA), teamed up with activists like Maya Dodd and Assmaah Helal to campaign for the ban's repeal. FIFA's policy reversal opened the door to women across the Muslim world.
Jordan's national team is led by Head Coach Azzedine Chih, who is from Algeria. Their most recent roster, from the 2020 AFC Olympic qualifying tournament, includes many young players who do not necessarily play club football. Goalkeeper Salma Ghazal, who has 16 caps, was raised in Texas and currently plays for the University of Houston. Shabab Al-Ordon, a club based in the capital city Amman, has a very well-respected women's academy program and produces many national team players.
Players like Ayah Al-Majali, Stephanie Al-Naber, Shorooq Shathli, and Shahnaz Jebreen have been playing with the national team since it was founded in 2005. Each of them have over 100 caps for Jordan. Al-Naber, who served as the team captain until her retirement earlier this year, is the most-capped player at 128 appearances and 79 goals. Shathli also retired in March 2020.
In the 2020 AFC Olympic qualifying tournament, Jordan finished No. 1 in their group in the first round, earning victories over Indonesia, Palestine, and Maldives. They scored a total of 16 goals that round and allowed none. Anfal Al-Sufy led the way in goal-scoring with five goals across two games. Shahnaz Jebreen and Abeer Al-Nahar each scored three goals.
Jordan struggled in the second round, earning a scoreless draw against Hong Kong, but losing to both Vietnam and Uzbekistan. Jordan's team is still learning, but with each tournament, the team is getting more experience under their belts. And with the expansion of the Women's World Cup from 24 teams to 32 teams, the AFC will have more slots to compete for. It's the perfect storm for a country like Jordan, and many others in the AFC who are getting better and better each year.
Jordan's ascent has been breathtaking. And someday, they will reach the highest levels of women's football. Their first generation of players has guaranteed it.