Thursday, April 28, 2011

23 Tickets to Afghanistan: Defenders

Will Tito return to the National Team after a two-year layoff?

This entry is the second of a four part series you can read the first installment here. For the sake of brevity we only assess players who have previously been called up to the national team.

Staying at Home:

Bruno Pesce (Olympia Agnonese, Serie D, Italy)- Much like his club teammate, Roberto Kettlun, Bruno is in a footballing abyss. He plays what amounts to semi-professional football in Italy for a team that is struggling to stay up in Italy's fifth division. Moreover, according to this article it seems that Bruno will retire at the end of this season. Pesce has been capped five times playing in three 2006 World Cup qualifying matches against Iraq, Chinese Taipei, and Uzbekistan. His last appearance for Palestine was in 2006- An Asian Cup Qualifier against China.

Hernán Madrid (Taraji Wadi Al-Nes, WBPL)- Things haven't gone according to plan for Hernán. His move to the West Bank Premier League was supposed to serve as a fast track to the national team. Things started well, as Madrid helped his side complete a preseason cup double by winning the Palestinian Supercup and the Yasser Arafat Cup over Jabal Al-Mokaber and Al-Am'ary, respectively. Unfortunately, for the Red & Yellow, their league campaign got off to a dreadful start despite being hot preseason favorites to win the WBPL. The high profile signing has failed to make a single Team of the Week (selected by a panel of contributors) a damning assessment of how average this high profile signing has been.

Hatem Karim (Jabal Al-Mokaber, WBPL)- Looked decent against Sudan then got himself injured on a play that resulted in a comically easy goal for Iraq in the WAFF Championship. Bezaz hasn't called him up since.

Flying Standby:

Khaled Mahdi (Al-Am'ary, WBPL)- Plays for the best team in the land and was Bahdari's partner in defence during the Challenge Cup Qualifiers. He might get the call ahead of half a dozen other contenders based purely on those two things.

Roberto Bishara (CD Palestino, Chilean Primera)- For whatever reason, Bishara has yet to be called up by Mousa Bezaz. A lot of that has to do with the fact that only a small number of our friendlies have been played on official FIFA matchdays. We do know that Bishara was called up for our friendly against Gambia that was cancelled at the last minute. If called up, expect Tito to slot in as a leftback in the place of the mediocre and inexperienced Samer Hijazi. Will be available for the Pakistan friendlies barring Palestino qualifying for the Apertura playoffs.

Mohammed Al-Masri (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh, WBPL)- One of the big reasons why the Gazelles are in third place this season has been the leadership of Al-Masri at the back. His status as one of the most solid centrebacks in the league earned him a call-up to the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers. Unfortunately, for Al-Masri he really didn't take advantage of the opportunity in warm-ups against Pakistan and Kuwait's Olympic Team to show that he belongs. At the qualifying tournament itself, Al-Masri was the only defender not to make an appearance in the team's three games.

Ahmed Harbi (Al-Am'ary, WBPL)- Good in attack but can be exploited for his lack of defensive skills. The fullback did score the winner against Myanmar in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers which is going to boost his chances of being called up again. Might be looked over in favor of Faisaly's Shareef Adnan (who is just as effective at attacking) and Abusidu (who can defend).

Hussam Abu Saleh (Hilal Al-Quds, WBPL)- Part of the best defence in the WBPL but he might lack the ability at international level. Did not start any of Palestine's games during the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers.

Rafit Eyad (Jabal Al-Mokaber, WBPL)- Has been solid for Jabal Al-Mokaber in the league but the fact that the defending champions have fallen apart this season does him no favors. He was called up to face Dynamo Moscow last October. He'll have a chance to stake a claim for himself but he'll need to play lights out. Being part of a team that has allowed 30 goals in 20 games (only three clean sheets) is a damning statistic.

Mustafa Abu Kwek (Al-Bireh, WBPL)- Will suffer due to the fact that he plays on such a bad team but has an edge on Eyad due purely to his performance against Thailand with the Olympic Team. Bezaz has stated that he will give the best players from that squad a chance with the senior team.

Nadim Barghouthi (Al-Bireh, WBPL)- See: Abu Kwek, Mustafa.

Haitham Dheeb (Hilal Al-Quds, WBPL)- Anchors the stingiest defence in the WBPL (13 GA in 20 games) but might miss out on the squad if Roberto Bishara and Khaled Mahdi are included alongside Jarun and Bahdari. Bezaz will not call up more than 4 centrebacks.

On the Plane!

Majed Abusidu (Tadamon, Kuwait First Division)- A lot has been made about Abusidu's disappointing performance at the WAFF Championship. To be fair, though, a lot of that was a result of him being forced to play centrally against Iraq and Yemen after Bahdari was unjustly shown a red card. Defensively, he is the best option Palestine has on the right wing his competition will come in the form of Ahmed Harbi, who had a good showing at the Challenge Cup and Al-Faisaly's Shareef Adnan.

Omar Jarun (Tampa Bay FC, NASL)- He has just reentered the fray after spending nearly four years being overlooked by more than one coaching staff. Will not be available for the Pakistan friendlies in May due to the American season running from March-November. Bezaz tried to get him into the Challenge Cup qualifying squad but the player was in the midst of looking for a new club after being released by Pogon Szczecin. His performance against Tanzania, however, has done more than enough guarantee him a spot.

Abdelatif Bahdari (Wehdat, Jordanian Premier League)- He has been absolutely dominant for Wehdat this year. They have won the Jordanian Supercup, the FA Shield, the Jordanian League, and are in the semifinals of the FA Cup. Wehdat have just clinched their group in the AFC Cup with two matchdays to go, and have to be considered one of the favorites to lift the trophy. Bahdari has anchored a backline that has lost only once all season and has conceded a measly 20 goals in 31 competitive matches. The defender also has two league goals to boot and has only been cautioned twice in twenty games. It is looking increasingly more likely that Bahdari will be moving to a bigger league in the near future.

Samer Hijazi (Jabal Al-Mokaber, WBPL)- He's the only player Palestine has at the moment that plays as a leftback on a weekly basis. He is serviceable at best but he is only 22/23 so there is some hope that he will improve.

Shareef Adnan (Al-Faisaly, Jordanian Premier League)- Offers something a little different than Abusidu in that he can play as a right winger. His inclusion in the squad could mean the omission of Ahmed Harbi.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ramzi Saleh returns to training, eyes June comeback

According to Al-Ayyam, Ramzi Saleh is only 10 days away from jogging and resuming light training. If all goes well, the goalkeeper could be fit in time for the first leg of World Cup Qualifying against Afghanistan on June 29th. If Saleh is fit expect him to included in the World Cup Qualifying squad alongside Abdullah Saidawi and Mohammed Shbair.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

23 Tickets to Afghanistan: Goalkeepers

The race to replace Ramzi is on.

It's been slow going news wise since Palestine wrapped up its qualification for the 2012 Challenge Cup. So I thought it would be interesting to start to speculate on what Mousa Bezaz's squad might look like for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan (the first leg will most likely be "Hosted" by Afghanistan in a neighboring Central Asian nation) in late June. We start with the Goalkeepers.

Staying at Home:

Leo Zamora (Curicó Unido, Chile Primera B)- He's 35 and has not played for Palestine since 2004. His stint with Egyptian side Smouha was short lived, and did not result in a call back from the national side.

Flying Standby:

Ramzi Saleh (Unattached)- It all depends on his health but it seem like a major risk to force him back into action earlier than anticipated. He underwent surgery in Germany for a problem in his ACL in late January and the recovery time was set at six months. Saleh will most likely miss the qualifier against Afghanistan and the proceeding second round match against Thailand. The coaching staff might include him as a member to help boost the squad's morale, much like he did during the Challenge Cup. The captain is five appearances away from breaking Saeb Jendeya's all time caps record.

Saed Abu Saleem (Balata, Palestine WBPL)- The latest third choice goalkeeper to be selected by Bezaz his heroics in goal have helped Balata rise to fourth in their first season in the WBPL. Saleem has conceded 23 goals in 18 games with six clean sheets making him the fifth best stopper in the WBPL by a goals allowed:games ratio.

Fahed Al-Fakhuri (Thaqafi Tulkarem, Palestine WBPL)- Only two clean sheets to his name this season but make no mistake, Al-Fakhuri has been pivotal of times allowing Thaqafi to snatch valuable points to put them four points above relegation with three rounds of play to go. His goals allowed:games ratio makes him the fifth worst (or if you're a glass half-full type person, seventh best) goalkeeper in the league. 28 goals in 19 games which isn't bad considering Thaqafi is bereft of talent and Al-Fakhuri is only 22 years of age. His last call-up was in February against Tanzania where Gazan players were omitted from the squad due to travel restrictions. Out of the three contenders vying for emergency goalkeeper spot his chances are probably the slimmest

Azmi Shweki (Al-Am'ary, Palestine WBPL)- There will be an argument over whether Shweki is purely a beneficiary of a solid defence and great team. Al-Am'ary are now top of the table and their squad includes the free scoring Eyad Abugharqud as well as national team defenders Ahmed Harbi and Khaled Mahdi. Al-Am'ary have been very stingy defensively as of late putting together five clean sheets in a row en route to becoming league leaders. Shweki has eight clean sheets on the season and is the second best goalkeeper in terms of the goals allowed:games ratio allowing 14 in 18 games.

On the Plane!

Mohammed Shbair (Shabab Al-Khaleel, Palestine WBPL)- He has years of experience playing for the national team at Olympic and Senior level. It seems likely that he will lose out to the older, wiser, and taller Abduallah Saidawi but he has proved himself capable on more than one occasion. He hasn't had the best season with Shabab Al-Khaleel, the Hebron side are in the midst of a rebuilding project, but has amassed four clean sheets.

Abdullah Saidawi (Hilal Al-Quds, Palestine WBPL)- A late bloomer having made his first appearance for the national team in 2009. In the past two years, though, he has proved himself to be the best goalkeeper in the WBPL. Through 18 games he has allowed a measly 9 goals. Hilal Al-Quds have leaned heavily on his shot stopping and the goalscoring of Murad Alyan who has accounts for 15 of the Jerusalem side's 29 goals. Saidawi has a league high nine clean sheets and will most definitely be starting (and probably captaining) the squad against Afghanistan.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lilian Thuram in Palestine

The most capped player in France's history is on a three-day trip to Palestine, he kicked off his tour of the country today by visiting a UNRWA school in the Qalandiya Refugge Camp. He will later inaugurate the new 9,000 seat stadium in Al-Bireh, on the outskirts of Ramallah, that was partly financed by France, Germany, and FIFA.

You can read more about Lilian's trip here and here. You can also relive his awesome two-goal performance in the 1998 World Cup semifinal (complete with "The Thinker" celebration) against Croatia here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

News Roundup

According to the Palestine FA's official website, Mokhtar "The Dinosaur" Al-Talili has resigned taking full blame for Palestine's early exit in AFC Olympic qualifying.

Palestine's next friendlies as confirmed by Palestinian and Pakistani news sources is a two match series in Palestine against the Green Shirts. These friendlies are slated for May 24th and 27th but have yet to be confirmed by FIFA as official friendlies.

According to our friends at Football Rankings and their probable April 2011 FIFA rankings Palestine is expected to climb eight places to 170. If this is indeed the case, it only reinforces my negative opinion of the FIFA rankings. I understand Palestine tumbled down to 65 places due to a lack of inactivity and victories over five years. How Palestine can beat Bangladesh and Myanmar and still be ranked below them just goes to show how arbitrary these rankings are, especially at this level.

Assistant Coach Abdel-Nasser Barakat gave an interview to Ayyam Al-Mel'aeb and had some interesting things to say. Namely he said that the national team had very little information on the teams they faced which necessitated a more cautious approach in the first half to figure out the opponent and then adjust. He also said that Philippines was the best opponent the team faced in the group stages. Barakat went on to say that the entire technical staff will meet up in Palestine next week to suss out a plan for World Cup qualifiers. The best players from the Olympic team along with the players playing abroad are expected to be given a chance to win a place in the squad.

I would fully expect call-ups for: Hicham Ali, Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb, and Mustafa Abu Kweik. For the players playing abroad: The Wihdat trio, Mohammed Samara, Majed Abusidu, and Shareef Adnan to get call-ups. Roberto Bishara will be available starting May 22nd provided that Palestino do not qualify for the Apertura playoffs (the final is on June 18th). Imad Zatara will be in the middle of the Allsvenskan season so he would only be available for the qualifier itself and not the training camp. Omar Jarun, who recently signed with Tampa Bay FC would be in the same boat as the NASL season runs from April to September. It will be interesting to see whether or not Lebanon based Mustafa Hallaq and Mohammed Abu Ateeq will be called up. I would also like to see us call up Abduallah Al-Batat who plays for Al-Kharaityat in the Qatar Stars League.

[UPDATE]: Pakistan friendlies confirmed.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Player Ratings: Philippines-Palestine

I had the opportunity to actually watch the Palestine-Philippines match yesterday and thought I would share my opinion of the performance.

I wouldn't use a harsh word like dominate but I thought Palestine controlled this game for 90 minutes. Philippines had some good flashes here and there but were definitely the happier side at the end of the game. I am looking forward to combining this group of players with the best of the Olympic side and the professionals who play abroad. One thing they could use is a set piece taker... Palestine were very wasteful of those in this game. We seem to have established a very English style of play dependent on speedy wingers and crosses into the box. That said, Palestine were also equally comfortable slowing down the tempo and playing through the middle.

Here are my ratings for the players who took part in this game. Just as reference I don't give out 10s, 9 is outstanding, 8 is great, 7 is good, 6 is average.

Abdullah Saidawi (6)- Did not have a lot to deal with but commanded his area very well. His distribution was adequate but not as good as Ramzi Saleh's. Overall, I feel comfortable with the fact that he will most start against Afghanistan, there is no need to rush Ramzi's recuperation process.

Ahmad Harbi (5.5)- I would give him a much higher score for his presence in attack but defensively he was a liability. His mistakes were covered by Bahdari and Amour who was dropping back to help him out. Against a weak side he can be very useful with his constant attacking forays. But defensively he is diving into tackles or getting beat due to poor positioning. Placing him on the right flank was a good decision by Bezaz.

Khaled Mahdi (6.5)- The only criticism I have of Mahdi is that he doesn't play the ball out of defence. He was not punished for this by the Philippines but bigger sides are more capable at pinning a defence and pounding it until it concedes a goal.

Abdelatif Bahdari (7.5)- He was EVERYWHERE. Unlike his partner at the back, Bahdari plays the ball out of defence, his skill on the ball is evidence of the fact that he was a playmaking midfielder in his youth. Completely marked Guirado out of the match. We're still waiting on him to score a goal for the national team... he was being targeted often on corners but to no avail. I'm sure he'll get on the score sheet soon, this is a player who scored FOUR goals in one match for Hilal Areeha (Jericho) two seasons ago.

Samer Hijazi (5.5)- Did not offer much in attack, was good in defence but a positional mistake gave Philippines their best chance at scoring.

Houssam Wadi (7)- Helped out admirably in defence, was also pivotal in launching attacks with pinpoint passing to the wingers. An underrated player, it remains to be seen whether he can replicate this form against better opposition. He's the only holding midfielder Bezaz seems to like.

Khader Youssef (6)- Did a lot of dirty work in defence but didn't go forward enough. Should have done better with the corners he took.

Ashraf Nu'man (6.5)- A very promising performance from the 24 year-old. His 50 yard chip that caught Etheridge off his line was no accident. Caused the Azkals' defence problem with his speed, needs to cut in and go at goal a bit more.

Suleiman Obeid (6.5)- A very lively spark in the midfield but he let down the team with erratic decision making in the final third. Would probably be better suited for the wing if Bezaz with Attal or Keshkesh as a supporting forward. Had multiple chances to score that went begging. Should have been more decisive with his passing, often waited instead of anticipated an opening or a teammate's run.

Ismail Amour (7)- Best attacking player out there. Had the misfortune of being mistaken for a veteran player by the Filipino commentators (he's only 26) due to his receding hairline. Was at the heart of nearly every attack.

Murad Alyan (6.5)- His performance merited a goal but Neil Etheridge did well to deny him a couple of times and sweep up the balls played into the box. Combined well with teammates and was more than willing to drop back when needed. In short, the best striker to play for us since Al-Kord, he's a pure goalscorer and could be even more lethal when paired with Attal or Keshkesh.