Palestine are on the verge of making history with their participation in their first ever major international tournament. Unfortunately, Jamal Mahmoud's sudden resignation has left them scrambling to find a manager capable of selecting, preparing, and leading a group of 23 players who will be viewed by hundreds of millions of people across the Asian continent.
Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation back in 2007 after forty years of being a big whale in the small ocean of the OFC. With their only real competitor being New Zealand. and qualifying matches which saw them set records (the famous 31-0 vs. Samoa which inspired the title for James Montagues recent world cup book), they decided being in the OFC was holding them back. The OFC's "1/2" spot in the world cup didn't do them any good either having only qualified as an OFC member twice in 1974 and 2006 (they have a 100% qualifying record since joining the AFC). Australia reached the final of the 2011 Asian Cup but lost 1-0 to Japan. Australia was the sole bidder to host the 2015 edition and is eyeing winning the trophy at home.
Needless to say, it will be a special tournament for Palestine as well. And who would've thought we'd have to fly all the way to Australia to watch our nation's first Asian Cup. If you plan on making the trip, this post is for you.
It's hard to gauge a team when logistics prevent you from watching their last four friendlies. Needless to say, Palestine are not flying high as they were on May 30th, 2014. In the long run, a dose of realism might be what the team needs in order to realize the task ahead of them. Here is what we learned from the friendlies against India and Pakistan:
A Palestine squad featuring mostly WBPL players jetted off to India earlier this week to continue Asian Cup preparations. Leading the side for the first time will be interim manager and former National Team captain, Saeb Jendeya.
Palestine had originally scheduled a double-header against India (on the 6th and 9th) and Pakistan (on the 12th and 14th) but were forced by FIFA to amend the schedule. As a result, they will play India on the 6th and then face Pakistan on the 14th- perhaps sneaking in a non-official match between one of the two sides somewhere in between.
In another sign of the PFA's ineptitude the canceling of the second India friendly leaves India without an opponent for one of the match days. They will no doubt be furious as they turned down an opportunity to play Malaysia on October 9th. Whatever goodwill might have existed between the two federations is probably now in short supply.
Palestine last faced India in February 2012 in an encounter marked by a sensational Ashraf Nu'man hattrick which overshadowed Palestine's lackadaisical defensive approach in the first half.
Although Palestine did not concede a goal en route to Asian Cup qualification (over an eight game span) shocking defensive performances have reared their head from time to time. This was the case last month as Palestine struggled against Myanmar and Chinese Taipei.
A good performance is a must given that the side has more than a few hour preparation under its belt as well as the benefit of playing a month's worth of club football.