One of the great things about football, and sport in general, is that there is always a tomorrow. A tournament of some kind is always just around the corner and fans of a team that failed to meet expectations can find hope again. I wish I could say the same about our situation, the fact of the matter is that the AFC Challenge Cup was our ticket to Qatar 2011. Our elimination from the Challenge Cup and consequently the Asian Cup means we will have to wait until 2014 World Cup qualifying starts up again in late 2011 or early 2012. Another edition of the Challenge Cup will also start around that time. So what do we do now? How do we learn from these mistakes and improve?
First and foremost, I think we have to realize that there were mistakes made at the very top level of management. I was willing to give FA Chairman Jibril Rajoub a chance despite his thuggish past. I thought that Rajoub's abrasive character would help the the Palestinian FA get a little respect from the AFC, that we could call up whomever we wanted provided it was for matches played on FIFA dates, and that conditions and preparations would be a little easier thanks to the mafioso's connections. Rajoub has failed on two of the three counts, although we were able to get a month-long training camp in before the Challenge Cup we were pushed around by Jordanian clubs and we couldn't even get a decent friendly against a national team or big club.
Our ineptitude this campaign is possibly best embodied by our National Team coach Izzat Hamzeh. Most coaches are hired after members of the board of the FA meet and discuss present applications and potential targets. Well, in this case, the Jordanian FA appointed him for us, and the folks at the Palestinian FA who were still fighting over the FA presidency accepted to take him since we needed a coach for the rapidly approaching WAFF Championships in Tehran. It is important to note, that some people were deeply suspicious about his hiring. It was seen as a way to get rid of a member of the Jordanian National Team's backroom staff without actually firing him. It seems that in Izzat Hamzeh, the Jordanians have the perfect puppet who would put the interests of Jordanian football before that of Palestinian football (more on this later). For some reason, losses to Iran and Qatar by 3-0 and 1-0 scores respectively earned him an extension. A 1-1 draw in the first match to be played on Palestinian soil gave him some credibility.
Any credibility Hamzeh and Rajoub might have gained thanks to the historic match played in Faisal Al-Husseini stadium has been dashed thanks to their decisions concerning squad selection. As many of you know, this week is a FIFA international fixture date, meaning that clubs cannot refuse to release their players to international teams. Essentially, what this means is that Palestine had an opportunity to pick absolutely anyone in any club, in any country. What did Hamzeh and Rajoub decide to do? Leave out a host of midfielders that could have solved problems on the wing and in the holding position. The inclusion of Imad Zatara, Edgardo Abdala, Roberto Kettlun, Fadi Lafi, and Mohmmed Samara would have helped immensely. (I notably left Ramzi Saleh off that list, because I feel the decision to keep him in training with Al-Ahly was the correct one, since it would further cement his place as Al-Ahly #1 and because Mohammed Shbair is a more than adequate goalkeeper.)
So the question is: Why all the notable omissions? (and the not so notable ones: Where was Fadi Salim? A pacy winger who notched up six goals with Merkaz Tulkarm this past season) It was wise to include a lot of West Bank Premier League players, that move in itself represents a move in the right direction. Many of the young guns who were included did very well with their first caps, the cream of the crop being Said Al-Sobakhi who scored Palestine's lone goal of the tournament off an exquisite header. Eighteen of the twenty-two players that made the trip to Nepal were WBPLers. The only foreign-based players were former WBPLers Ahmad Keshkesh and Fahed Attal along with Majed Abusidu (Salmiya, Kuwait) and Roberto Bishara(CD Palestino, Chile). Surely, the inclusion of four more foreign based players would have provided better balance in the squad. If Kettlun and Zatara were in the squad there would be no need to play Ismail Al-Amour as a playmaker, nor would there be any reason to play Majed Abusidu, a natural right-back, as a holding midfielder. The inclusion of Edgardo Abdala, who is a hoover in the middle of the pitch would have also gone a long way in helping to solve the tactical problems. Izzat Hamzeh decided not to call up Fadi Lafi and Al-Faisaly defender Shareef Adnan so not to offend their clubs. As for Samara, Zatara, Abdala, and Kettlun he did not even make an attempt to call them up.
The ٍٍٍٍShareef Adnan situation is particularly rich. After calling up the player to participate in the Amman training camp, Izzat Hamzeh cut him, not for any tactical reason, no... but for holding Jordanian citizenship. Essentially, the player was cut because capping him would set a dangerous precedent, it would mean any Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, not just ones registered as refugees could play for Palestine. The fact that Adnan played for the King's club- Al-Faisaly further complicated matters. Izzat Hamzeh, and of course his slave-master Rajoub, basically did the bidding of the Jordanian FA here. Why? Well because Izzat Hamzeh is beholden to them and Jibril Rahoub would sell his mother for a couple of dinars. Allow me to paint the picture of how whipped Izzat Hamzeh is:
-Izzat Hamzeh got this job thanks to Jordanian FA president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein
-Izzat Hamzeh is a Jordanian citizen, defying the monarchy, would lead to his life becoming very shitty, very fast.
-Izzat Hamzeh's son, Ibrahim is receiving a full scholarship to study abroad thanks to Queen Rania. He also worked with daddy at the Arab Bank Group.
I could go on... but there is a silver lining... Izzat Hamzeh is not going to stay on as coach of the National Team. So at least one of our problems has been nipped in the bud, let's hope this will be the last time we're subservient to the Jordanian FA.
Next up... Solutions for going forward