Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine OT 1 : 1 Lebanon OT

Starting XI: Toufic Ali (Amr Abu Rweis); A'ed Al-Shaiokhy, Mustafa Abu Kweik (c), Samaha Jabareen; Amjad Zidan (Saleh Al-Najar), Fayez Aslieh, Salem Al-Darooby (Laith Kharoub), Wasim Eqab; Muath Mostafa (Rida Al-Da'mah), Khaled Salem.

Background: Palestine's Olympic Team played out an entertaining draw with their Lebanese counterparts in a match held to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba. Manager Mokhtar "The Dinosaur" Al-Talili had called up 16 players from eight different WBPL clubs to take part. While in Lebanon he also called up the six best players (two of whom- Mohammed Dalbi and Fawzi Maqdesi play for Al-Ansar's youth team and are eligible for the u-17s) from the refugee camps around the country. There was also a call up for Saleh Al-Najar, a player many are claiming to be a professional in Belgium. Several high profile players such as Eyad Abugharqud, Ahmed Mearry, and Abdelhamid Abu Habeeb were omitted from the squad. Al-Talili chose to let the players compete for the Palestine Championship- a friendly tournament featuring the top four teams in Palestine along with 12 teams from Jordan, the Golan Heights, Mauritania, Ghana, South Africa, Chile, and Hungary.

Recap: The partisans in Sidon's Rafic Hariri Memorial Stadium were decidedly pro-Palestinians with only a few dozen Lebanese supporters scattered throughout the 2000 or so that turned out. The chatter in football forums blame the FA and the long running ban on spectators in the Lebanese league for fear of sectarian violence.

The match was an open affair from the start with Lebanon having the better spell over the first ten minutes. Mustafa Shahin forced Toufic Ali into an acrobatic save in the 6th minute and returned 5 minutes later- this time Shahin redirected a well taken cross into Ali's net to open the scoring. Lebanon's lead did not last long, Khaled Salem exhibited his power and pace as he left a Lebanese defender in his wake before slotting home from just inside the box.

Palestine then had a series of chances fall their way including a penalty shout after Khaled Salem was brought down in the box. The open affair saw Amjad Zidan hit the right post and left post on successive shot attempts in the 30th minute. Ten minutes later, Mahmoud Kejk rattled a shot off Toufic Ali's crossbar.

Amjad Zidan ended a first half of entertaining and open football; he sprung the offsides trap and found himself one-on-one with the keeper only to hesitate and see his opportunity disappear.

The second half began much like the first. Lebanon caused Palestine a lot of trouble and substitute Amr Abu Rweis was called on more than once to make key interventions. Palestine seemed to still be adjusting to the four substitutions The Dinosaur made at the half. Al-Fursan were thrown a lifeline when Omar Aweidah was sent off after a rash tackle on Khaled Samlem. The powerful striker became a more prominent figure in the match testing the Lebanese keeper on several occasions. With a quarter of an hour left, Amjad Zidan made way for debutant Saleh Al-Najar (who sources claim plays professionally in Belgium). Al-Najar had a positive effect on the match but he along with his teammates were forced to settle for the 1-1 draw on this occasion.

Positives: Palestine managed to get a result away from home against a stronger team (Lebanon did beat Qatar 2-1 in December and drew Sudan 0-0 last month) while playing well for stretches of the game. Not bad considering the absence of six starting players from the team that took on Thailand in March.

In recognition of the humanitarian disaster that took place 63 years ago today the team visited the Ain Al-Helweh and Shatilla refugee camps whilst training in Beirut.

Negatives: This team needs to learn how to finish their chances. I would have liked to see The Dinosaur go for the jugular after Lebanon went down a man instead of retaining his semi-cautious formation.

What's Next: This friendly was seen as an opportunity for the Lebanese based talent to prove themselves ahead of the home and away qualifiers against Bahrain next month. (A-June 19th/H-June 23rd).