Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Afghanistan 0 : 2 Palestine


Palestine Starting XI (4-4-2): Shbair (GK), Abu Saleh, Mahdi, Jarun, Bishara; Obeid, Khader Yousef (Murad Ismail 77'), Abu Bilal (Ashraf Nu'man 90+'); Keshkesh (Amour 66') , Alyan


Goals: Murad Alyan 28', pen. miss 75', Ismail Amour 89'


Recap: In the end, it was a pretty tidy win for Palestine. Both teams played a clean game as evidenced by the single caution handed out by the usually card-happy Naser Darwish of Jordan. It was also a competent and spirited display by Afghanistan who were forced to deal with a temporary financial crisis, injuries, cancelled friendlies, and a managerial resignation.

Despite the encounter being held on neutral territory a sizable crowd- estimated at 5,000- showed up to cheer Afghanistan on. Team-e-Melli were rocked by news that Oldenburg goalkeeper Mansur Faqiyar and Eintracht Frankfurt youth product Abassin Alikhil would not recover in time to participate. These two were always going to be heavily leaned on to help grind out a result. Despite key absences, the newly reinstated Yosuf Kargar put out an attacking line-up. For the first quarter of an hour it seemed to pay off as the Afghans, more acclimated to local conditions (37 C) displayed plenty of skill.

Al-Fursan found their feet and began to assert their dominance in midfield with Ahmed Keshkesh dropping off to help exercise a numerical advantage. Palestine looked to impose their trade mark style by playing the ball to their wide players, Suleiman Obeid had a chance go begging in the 17th minute followed up in quick succession with shots from Wadi and Keshkesh. The opening goal came 28 minutes in after Afghanistan's first positive attacking spell. Atef Abu Bilal, whom Bezaz chose over Ashraf Nu'man, sent in a cross from the left which Murad 'Dado' Alyan headed in brilliantly for his fifth international goal in four games.

Afghanistan did not let their heads drop, pressuring the makeshift Palestinian backline in hopes of forcing an error. The defence was for the most part, excellent, today but did have to scramble away a few balls for corners. Afghanistan's best chance of the first half came in the dying seconds with direct free kick forcing Mohammed Shbair into action.

The second half would see Afghanistan go for broke, they wanted to get at least a draw to take with them to Al-Ram. Shbair was forced to show Bezaz that he had made the right decision in picking him over Abdullah Saidawi, who had kept two clean sheets during Challenge Cup qualifying and had had a better domestic season. Bilal Arzou, the Asker FC (Norway) player nearly equalized with a header in the 50th minute only for Shbair to foil his chance.

Palestine would respond through Keshkesh who forced Yousufzai into turning one of his shots for a corner and then combining with Abu Bilal and Alyan to force him into a save three minutes later. His day would end shortly thereafter as he made way for Ismail Amour- a surprise exclusion from Bezaz's lineup. Amour's pace helped revitalize the attack and sprung Palestine into a desperate search for insurance goals ahead of the return leg on Sunday.

Palestine was awarded a penalty in the 75th minute after Khader Yousef was fouled in the box. Murad Alyan was given the responsibility of converting the chance but placed it far too casually to the Yousufzai's right. Afghanistan, buoyed by its supporters, tried to mount a comeback Kargar took off Qazizadah and threw on a third forward- Mustafa Hadid. Bezaz also reshuffled his deck, taking off the increasingly harried Khader Yousef and putting on Murad Ismail.

Amour found himself increasingly free with the departure of Qazizadah. His signature diagonal runs into the box were resulting in quality efforts on goal, with one shot trickling centimeters wide of the post. His persistence paid off in the 85th minute firing a belter to the right of the helpless Yousufzai.

Man of the Match: This was a good team effort in difficult conditions. It isn't easy to play in 37º C heat in the early afternoon, nor is it easy for any national team to play so well with a makeshift backline and no preparation in the form of friendlies. So this one goes out to all 23 members of the squad... Well done!

What I liked: The national team is wearing green again. I have always suspected that Jibril Rajoub changed the colors when he took power in 2008 because of the Fateh-Hamas split (as if political parties have a monopoly on color). Now that they have made up... Green is back in. Coincidence?

What I liked (Part II): Resiliency. This team has it in droves. Starting Husam Abu Saleh was not ideal, nor was fielding a back line without our talisman Abdelatif Bahdari, nor was stepping out on the field without goalkeeper and captain Ramzi Saleh. The team knew they needed to keep a clean sheet and win by at least two goals. They did just that despite Murad Alyan's penalty miss and Afghan courage in keeping the score line 0-1 for so long.

What I didn't like: Alyan's missed penalty was a downer. But all great players miss penalties from time to time. I am confident he'll take the next one and bury it.

Afghanistan Consensus: A very young, very promising team. Thirteen of the twenty-one players included in the squad are under the age of 23. This is no longer a team that is going to get blown out by its Central or South Asian neighbours. Kargar has done a good job of mining the diaspora for talent and under his tenure (7 games 3 wins, 4 losses 0 GD) Team-e-Melli has been competitive in every match.

What's Next: The return leg is on Sunday, July 3rd. If Palestine takes care of business they will face Thailand in another two-legged playoff to determine who qualifies for the first group stage (20 teams).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Predicting Bezaz's Starting XI


So many questions, so few answers. Moussa Bezaz has never really settled on a favored formation nor has he ever fielded Palestine's strongest squad in his two years in charge. The World Cup qualifying preliminary matches against Afghanistan are no different. Palestine will be without captain Ramzi Saleh, Mohammed Samara, and Imad Zatara due to injury and club commitments, respectively. Promising players from the Olympic side were also not picked, presumably because of the short turnaround between Olympic and World Cup qualifying. In a puzzling move, Bezaz has chosen to leave out an established star in the form of Majed Abusidu whose 19 caps would have made him the fifth most capped player in the present squad- behind Keshkesh (33), Attal (27), Amour (27), and Bishara (25). Abdelatif Bahdari was included in the initial squad but faces a race against time to secure and exit visa and join the National Team before June 29th.

Formation:

Bezaz got Palestine to break an agonizing 59 months without a win by utilizing the 4-2-3-1 formation during the Challenge Cup. Despite its conservative nature it allowed Palestine to control the game and shield the defence effectively. As a result, Palestine conceded only one goal- a penalty- during three games and easily qualified for the 2012 edition of the Challenge Cup. Most the players in this squad are holdovers from that qualifying campaign so the personnel is definitely there to implement a 4-2-3-1.

Bezaz has also tried his luck with a 4-3-3 which would provide a way to shoehorn Alyan, Attal, and Keshkesh into the same line-up. It would be awkward and probably at the expense of burners like Amour, Abu Belal, and Nu'man who provided width and service during CCQ. Also the quality of the midfield, as far as gaining and keeping possession is concerned, is a little questionable.

Another intriguing option, if Bahdari is included in the squad, is playing three at the back. Bahdari, Jarun, and Bishara are all skilled enough on the ball to do it. Palestine has an abundance of wide players in Suleiman Obeid, Ismail Amour, Ashraf Nu'man, Atef Abu Bilal who could provide the width. A 3-5-2 would provide a way for Bezaz to get his best players on the field but don't expect him to do it, partly because a lot of the players are not familiar with it and it would require our wingers to take on added defensive responsibilities.

Who Starts?

Goalkeeper: Abdullah Saidawi who after 11 years with the senior team is finally getting a chance thanks to Ramzi Saleh's injury will be in goal. He has been fantastic this season with Hilal Al-Quds, keeping the most clean sheets (12), and conceding a meager 14 goals in 22 games.

Right Back: Ahmad Harbi will retain his place as the team's right back he can be a little prone to getting caught out of position his attacking instincts are excellent. His Challenge Cup campaign essentially made Shareef Adnan redundant. [UPDATE] Ahmed Harbi has not been allowed to leave the West Bank by Israel, no reason was given. He will be replaced by Hussam Abu Saleh or Samer Hijazi

Centre Back: Omar Jarun will get his third cap and will be partnered by Abdelatif Bahdari, if he can get out of Gaza in time. If not, expect the solid but unspectacular Khaled Mahdi to take his place.

Left Back: Roberto Bishara. This is a problem area for a lot of national teams, Roberto Bishara hasn't played here with Palestino in recent seasons but he is a very intelligent player with underrated attacking ability. Bezaz could opt to play him the middle if Bahdari is absent but I don't see Bezaz having that much faith in Samer Hijazi.

Right Midfield: Ismail Amour. He has competition on his hands but he's the best wide player on the roster with the most experience to boot.

Centre Midfield: Houssam Wadi will be deployed to do the dirty work in midfield, it is who starts next to him that is the big mystery. Khader Yousef will be challenged by two players who weren't in the Challenge Cup squad: Murad Ismail and Ma'ly Kawre'.

Left Midfield: Another question mark, Bezaz will have to choose between Atef Abu Bilal, Ashraf Nu'man, and Suleiman Obeid. Obeid has been deployed more centrally but I've always seen him as a wide player and with the likes of Keshkesh and Attal in the squad he probably won't be played there.

Support Striker: It might, finally, be a question of Keshkesh OR Attal instead of Keshkesh and Attal. This is Palestine's version of the Steven Gerrard/Frank Lampard conundrum. They're basically the same player, except Keshkesh spent his early years toiling as a midfielder. For the past four years these two have been slapped together and it seems like the only time they score (Keshkesh: vs. Jordan, China, FC Brussels Attal: 2006 Challenge Cup, Terek Grozny friendly) is when they're playing alongside a forward that complements them.

Striker: Murad Alyan, three games, four goals. He'll be facing even weaker opposition in the form of Afghanistan so expect him to add to those numbers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Scouting the Opponent: Afghanistan


Match Information
What: 1st Leg Preliminary World Cup Qaulifier
When: 29/06/2011
Where: Mettallurg Arena, Tursunzoda, Tajikistan
Kickoff: 1230 GMT
TV/Streams: TBA




FIFA Rank: 166 (34th AFC)
Previous Encounters: None

Recent Results:
vs. Nepal L 0-1
vs. Sri Lanka W 1-0
vs. Korea DPR L 0-2

Background: Afghanistan's preparations have been hampered by a temporary lack of funding, a feud between their Olympic Committee and Football Association, their manager's unexpected resignation, professional players pulling out, and a cancelled friendly. It's not looking too pretty, but less than ideal training camps have become almost normal for Team-e-Melli. Despite their troubles the Afghans reached a record ranking last month (164) and registered a whopping 5-0 aggregate win over Bhutan in preliminary Challenge Cup play and a 1-0 upset of Sri Lanka in group play. The team will be without Yousef Samy (San Jose Earthquakes/MLS) who has pulled out with an injury and Qays Shayesteh (Emmen/NED).

World Cup Squad: A feud between the FA and Afghan Olympic Committee threatened the arrival of the international players named in the squad. Now that that has been resolved they will probably be late arrivals to the camp. It is a situation not dissimilar from the one Palestine experienced in 2007 when Edgardo Abdala and Roberto Bishara arrived less than 24 hours before the 2010 World Cup qualifier against Singapore. That camp was also one marked by disorganization and the novelty of a volunteer manager brought on to coach the squad.

Key Players: Afghanistan will depend on a bunker-ball mentality with their defence being anchored by Djauludin Shariatyar who plays professionally in Cyprus. The keeper Mansoor Faqiryar, who plays in the German regional leagues will be called upon to be the hero multiple times. Look for Afghanistan to try and do some damage on the break through young forwards Sidiq Walizada (who scored his country's first ever hattrick against Bhutan) and Asker FC (Norway, not Palestine) starlet Bilal Arezou.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Afghanistan World Cup Campaign Back on Track

Afghanistan was on the verge of withdrawing from World Cup qualifiers after a funding dispute between their football federation and Olympic committee. However the dispute seems to have been resolved and Team-e-Melli should be in Tajikistan by now.
The delay has caused damage to their preparations with coach Yousef Kragar resigning and their preparatory friendly with Tajikistan now doubtful.

From the Palestine training camp in Amman, Bezaz has affirmed the readiness of the players for the two-legged playoff and says the team will strive to overcome the absence of key defenders Roberto Bishara and Abdel-Latif Bahdari. Bishara has not been released by Palestino and Bahdari has not been able to leave Gaza.

[UPDATE]
The PFA released a report from the camp and it appears Roberto Bishara made the trip as planned after all. Al-Ayaam earlier reported that Palestino refused to release him. I thought this sounded strange as the Chilean Clausara doesn't kick off for another month...

Palestinian sports community appeal to UEFA – Red Card Israeli Apartheid

Below is an open letter addressed to UEFA President Michel Platini's decision to award the 2013 U21 European Championships to Israel. BDS (www.bdsmovement.net) is doing a great job of getting the word out and applying pressure. Please join this facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/red.card.israeli.apartheid) and tweet @UEFAcom to voice your opposition to this whitewashing of Apartheid.

Occupied Palestine – June 22 2011

Mr. Platini,

We, Palestinian footballers, athletes and sporting organizations and officials, are dismayed that Israel has been rewarded for its continued impunity and violent oppression of our people with the honour of hosting the UEFA Under-21 tournament in 2013. This decision is a drastic reversal of your brave stand just last year against Israeli attacks on Palestinian sport and its persistent violations of universal principles of human rights. You said: “We accepted them in Europe and furnished them the conditions for membership and they must respect the letter of the laws and international regulations otherwise there is no justification for them to remain in Europe. Israel must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behaviour”. We write today to remind you of the facts that no doubt informed this brave stance and to urge you to take steps to ensure that the 2013 tournament does not take place in Israel.

If this tournament goes ahead as planned, football fans from all over Europe and beyond will be given the impression that Israel is a country like any other, rather than one that practices a unique combination of occupation, colonization and apartheid against the indigenous Palestinian population. Games may be played at the Ramat Gan Stadium, which was built on land seized under the Absentee Property Owners Law of 1950, from the Palestinian villages of Jarisha and al-Jammasin al-Sharqi. Football should not preclude the refugees from these villages from returning to their lands, as is their UN-sanctioned right.

Israel’s violations of international law are numerous and continue unabated and impact Palestinian football and the people of Palestine more generally. The infamous Israeli permit system, which has been used to deny so many Palestinians the right to travel, is reminiscent of the “pass laws” of Apartheid South Africa, and is used to deny footballers the right to travel to international tournaments, or even participate in local practices, in violation of Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions barring collective punishment.[1]

The use of overwhelming force in Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008-09 was responsible for leveling large swathes of Gaza including the Rafah National Stadium[2], and killing football players Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshate, as well as over 1,400 other Gazans.[3]

Israel’s Apartheid Wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, runs its eight- meter-high solid concrete course less than 100 meters away from the Faisal Al Husseini Stadium in Al-Ram, the current national stadium of Palestine.[4] The arbitrary arrest of thousands of Palestinians, including Gazan Palestinian National Team member Mahmoud Kamel As-Sarsak, held without trial or indeed public explanation for their arrest, is a routine tool of Israeli occupation.[5]

Israel’s system of occupation, colonization and apartheid impacts Palestinian football and all Palestinians.

In the face of South African Apartheid, Ruud Gullit dedicated his 1987 European Footballer of the Year Award to Nelson Mandela. We call upon you to make a similar stand against Apartheid, by ensuring that Israel is not allowed to host the 2013 tournament, rather than allow the organization that you lead to reward Israel for its violent repression of Palestinian rights.

We look forward to your reply,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1 : 2 Bahrian (2nd Leg Olympic Qualifier)

Khaled Salim fires Palestine ahead. More pictures here.


Palestine Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Toufic Ali (GK); Aslieh, Barghouthi, Abu Kweik (C), Salameh; Hicham Ali, "Al-Koori"; El-Khatib, Mearry, Abuhabeeb; Salim


Recap: The match unfolded with a 10 minute period with both teams feeling each other out. The equilibrium did not last long, Palestine began frustrating Bahrain in midfield and quashing any attacking move with a precisely executed offsides trap. If there was any pressure to the occasion you could not sense it in the performance of the team. Ali El-Khatib had the first shot on goal when his 30m shot stung the palms of Bahraini goalkeeper Ashraf Waheed. Palestine launched a furious counter attack down the left flank after a Bahraini corner four minutes later. Khaled Salem's pinpoint cross found Fayez Aslieh 2 meters out but his touched failed him and he skied his shot.

Other than winning two corners- Bahrain failed to create much of anything. Just as it seemed that they would settle for a 0-0 draw going into the second half- Hicham Ali sprung up in midfield, drove to the byline, and then crossed to Khaled Salem. The big striker controlled the ball, warding off several Bahraini defenders. His shot, hit on the turn no less, was perfectly placed into the bottom corner of the net. At 2-0 it seemed Palestine was headed for the Final 12 of AFC Olympic Qualifying.

Whatever Bahraini manager Salman Sharida told his team in the dressing room it lit a fire underneath. Al-Ahmar started the second half by throwing everyone forward, Palestine was caught off guard but seemed to survive a shaky first five minutes. A long ball played into the path of Deya Said landed behind the defence, Toufic Ali who had gone over 320 minutes without conceding, charged out of his goal and failed to reach the ball before Said who gleefully rounded him and several desperate defenders. A cheap goal leveled the score but it was still 2-1 on aggregate with 35 minutes to play.

Bahrain was buoyed by this display of Palestinian generosity. The young Fursan needed an intervention at this point to avoid their heads from dropping. Bahrain with players like Rashed Al-Hooti and Waleed Al-Hayam brought a wealth of experience to their side. These players are part of a well-established senior squad and knew they were still in this game with 45 minutes to go. Bahrain exploited a goalkeeping error and a defensive error on the second goal and did not do much else other than ride out the final thirty minutes.

Palestine's squad lacked experience at the top level and exhibited naivety in their approach to the second half. You can criticize the timing of Al-Talili's substitutions but this comes down to how your players perform in pressure situations. After the first goal, Palestine were in a daze it took them 15 minutes to find themselves again. We might be writing a different story if Khaled Salem didn't slice the post in the 62nd minute or if Ali El-Khatib or Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb had done better with later chances. Football can be cruel and for the 10,000 fans at Faisal Al-Husseini it was just one of those days.

What I liked: The first half, Khaled Salem's goal was amazing!

What I didn't like: The flat showing during the first 15 minutes of the second half. Palestine wilted not under pressure but under the weight of two critical mistakes.
The politicization of the game was even more disgusting, I'm sick and tired of seeing the faces Rajoub, Abu Mazen, and a dictator to be named later adorning the stands of our stadiums. To make matters worse the Bahraini players paid tribute to their brutal dictator by standing next to one of the pictures. I am embarrassed for us, the Football Association, and most of all the Bahrainis who are being tortured and oppressed, including but not limited to Alaa Hubail, Mohammed Hubail, and Sayyed Mohammed Adnan.

Reasons to be Optimistic:
  1. Just think how far this team has come from the Asian Games. A year a go we didn't have any bright young prospects on the horizon, now we can speculate on the futures of Abu Kweik, Hicham Ali, Abuhabeeb, Ali El-Khatib, and Khaled Salim.
  2. Up until two years ago Palestine's FA had an $870,000 budget, they now have a $6 million annual budget. It has helped build a stable domestic league and rejuvenate downtrodden men's, women's, and youth national team programs. But $6 million is a sliver compared to what Bahrain receives. The probably get that amount from a kit sponsorship alone. The fact of the matter is Palestine has some of the best raw talent in the AFC. If we had the funding of a GCC nation we would be serial World Cup participants (or a the very least, in the final round of qualifying).
  3. It's the Olympics. Nobody cares about the Olympics, nobody remembers great moments from past tournaments, and it really does get lost in all the hoopla over swimming and athletics. If you gave me the choice I much rather be at a World Cup or Asian Cup. The Olympics are the redheaded stepchild of International Football.
  4. World Cup Qualifying starts in six days!

Pre-match Comment: Olympic Qualifier 2nd Leg - Palestine vs. Bahrain

The away game score has given us plenty of reason to be confident about today's result, especially that this time the team will have the backing of home fans and the comfort of playing on home turf. While this confidence is warranted for the most part, take it from a seasoned follower (me!) that a reality check is sometimes in order..we are after all facing the Bahraini school of football. On the senior level, they are a regular contender giving the powerhouses a run for their money. On the Olympic level, they are no strangers to the final round of qualifiers. I will admit I kind of flinched when I read the remarks of the Bahrain coach Shreida from yesterdays press conference saying Bahraini football will live up to its name today. They have nothing to lose and will push with everything they have.
With that in mind, I believe our boys are going to pull through today. As young as they are, this team is tactically mature and reflects the upward momentum Palestinian football has been experiencing in the last three years. As nerve wracking as it might turn out to be, enjoy the match!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fear the mohawk!

Edit: pics have been removed

Palestine prepares to face Afghanistan on the 29th of the month in the first stage of preliminary World Cup qualifiers. The first leg(home for Afghanistan) will be played in Tajikstan, for obvious reasons.

Preview: Palestine Olympic Team vs. Bahrain (2nd Leg)



What:
Second Round Olympic Qualifier (Return Leg)
When: June 23rd, 2011
Where: Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium, Al-Ram, Palestine
Kickoff: 1400 GMT

TV: Palestine Satellite Channel
Streams: TBD

For a more in-depth preview you might want to take a look at our coverage of the first leg of this tie. There aren't many points left to hash out. Here is what you need to know:

  1. Palestine has a slender but valuable 1-0 lead. A win or draw takes them through. A one-goal loss will see the eliminated unless the score is 1-0 then it's 30 minutes of extra-time and penalties if necessary.
  2. Israel will not allow the four Gazan players who joined the team to enter the West Bank. The services of Mohammed Abu Dan, Anas El-Helu, Mohammed Al-Sadoody, and Alaa Attieh (who played 8 minutes as a sub) will be lost.
  3. Thaer Al-Bana, Mahmoud "Al-Koori" Salah, Nadim Barghouthi, and Ahmed Mearry are all on yellow cards they will be hit with a one-match suspension should they pick up another booking.
  4. This game comes down to The Dinosaur's approach. Will he attack or will he deploy the same tactics we saw for the first 45 minutes in Manama?

With the forced absence of Alaa Attieh there is virtually no chance Talili starts out playing with two forwards. He could stick Hazem El-Reikhawy further up the pitch but there is no point in changing a winning formula. Many fans want to see an attacking formation, to which I reply there are no "attacking" formations only attacking personnel. A variation of the 4-2-3-1 will be played to avoid leaving Palestine overrun in midfield where Bahrain enjoys a technical advantage. The question is how much tinkering does Talili do with his personnel? The personnel deployed in the first half of the first leg lacked discipline. The midfielders were too close together and could not keep ahold of possession. The 4-2-3-1 essentially became a very bad 4-5-1 with El-Reikhawy, El-Khatib, and Salím growing ever more isolated:



The substitution of Al-Bana for the clever Abuhabeeb did wonders. So did the late substitution of Hicham Ali. With a 4-4-1-1 with El-Reikhawy dropping back deep to defend when needed.



I would bet you see this formation again Thursday, with a fresh Abuhabeeb and Hicham Ali helping keep possession and drive attacks forward when needed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Bahrain 0 : 1 Palestine (1st Leg Olympic Qualifier)


Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Toufic Ali (GK); Fayez Aslieh, Nadim Barghouthi, Mustafa Abu Kweik (c), Ahmad Salameh; Thaer Al-Bana (Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb 46'), Mahmoud "Al-Koori" Saleh; Hazem El-Reikhawy, Ahmed Mearry (Hicham Ali 75'), Ali El-Khatib (Alaa Attieh 88'); Khaled Salím.


Recap: This was a game that needed a goal to ignite the interest of a neutral observer. The first half was cagey with neither team carving out a real chance for itself. Ali El-Khatib put in a dangerous ball from a free kick on the right side of the field but it was punched away. Bahrain had the lion's share of possession but could not put together an attempt on goal to trouble the lanky Toufic Ali. As the first half progressed it became evident that Palestine's main objective was to frustrate their Bahraini counterparts. There were bursts of quality from the captain- Fahed Shuwaiter and Asian Cup veteran Rashed Al-Huwaiti but both players lacked the ability to put the finishing touch on good attacking moves. When it appeared they would catch Palestine off guard they were fouled, sometimes strategically but most times stupidly. The first half ended with yellow cards being dished out to Thaer Al-Bana, Nadim Barghouthi, and "Al-Koori".

It was a shock to see the most technically adept players- Abuhabeeb and Hicham Ali- on the bench to start this match. The Dinosaur rolled the dice with his squad selection and he also had to be considering the short turn around between the two games. It is hard to tell whether or not the yellow cards forced him into an early substitution but the game settled in the second half. Abuhabeeb picked his spots in midfield, adeptly kept possession, and drew fouls. His level-headed demeanor was needed as Bahrain came out with more vigor in the second interval. One of his first touches found a streaking Hazem "Lazarus" El-Reikhawy down the left wing, his open shot connected only with side netting but it was a ominous omen for Al-Ahmar.

Khaled Salím caught them on the corner in the 60th minute rampaging from midfield through the heart of the Bahraini defence. He was fouled at the top of the box but managed to slip a pass to a wide open Ahmed Mearry who should have done better. Bahrain also had a golden chance foiled when Toufic Ali saved a point blank header three minutes before Salím opened the scoring.

Toufic Ali had an answer for everything they threw at him, the Wadi Al-Nes shotstopper is a bit of an enigma: His weak frame make him susceptible to injury yet he throws himself into challenges, he's weak on crosses yet hasn't been made to pay for it in Olympic Qualifying, his distribution is poor, and he seems to be still learning the game as evidenced by his less than natural technique at times. Despite all this he's allowed a mere goal in 300 minutes of play. He made stops in the 70th and 86th minutes that were flat out incredible. This kid may not have much but he has an awesome set of reflexes.

Khaled Salím's goal was the result of a intelligent play from Abuhabeeb who always seems to figure out a way to put his fingerprints on a game. Given time and space he found the open Ahmed Salameh who sent a looping ball into the box where Salím was lurking alongside two defenders. Salím maneuvered past one and outfought the other. The header was beautiful, and justified Talili's decision to play him alone up front. If you haven't seen him play he is very similar to Emmanuel Adebayor in both physique and style. The fact that he celebrated his goal by mimicking one of Manú's celebrations will only make that comparison all the more appropriate.

What it means: Palestine will progress to the group stages of Olympic Qualification (12 teams, three groups of four) with a draw in Al-Ram on Thursday.

Positives: Take a look at the way Palestine played in Bangkok four months ago and how they played today. This is far from being the finished product but they have improved so much in a short period of time. The strategy was the same but the execution tonight was more effective against a far better team. The players have shown themselves to be more than able to digest and implement tactics and change them if need be.

Negatives: The Bahraini keeper did really well to keep out Ali El-Khatib's pointblank header and Hicham Ali's powerful shot from 20 yards out. Palestine's lack of discipline was worrying there were four yellow cards handed out (Mearry, "Al-Koori", Barghouthi, and Al-Bana). Palestine will be losing the services of Abu Dan, Sadoody, El-Helu, and Attieh for the return leg as the Israeli government will not allow them entry into the West Bank.

Man of the Match: Khaled Salím was tireless up front. Scored the winner and set up Mearry (who missed in the 60th minute) and El-Khatib's saved header (spectacularly saved in the 75th minute).

What's Next: The return leg will be in Al-Ram Thursday June 23rd

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Excuse

While me and my dad watched Bahrain desperately trying to equalize in the dying minutes of the the olympic qualifier, he tried to offer some reasoning in reaction to the pleasantly surprising scoreline: "Well, they have an excuse."
He was of course referring to the recent protests and subsequent crackdowns that gripped the island Kingdom. I quietly agreed.

It only took us a few seconds to realize: "wait a minute, dont we have an excuse??"...you know, with that pesky Occupation and all.
Its quite a shift in mentality, that is if mine and my dad's is to reflect that of the general fanbase. Not long ago, we were constantly giving ourselves excuses, but now we are ready to forget about our own obstacles and give excuses to other teams...I found it amusing.

Now lets look forward to thursday!

Preview: Palestine Olympic Team vs. Bahrain (1st Leg)

The Olympic Team upon arriving in Bahrain.


What:
2nd Round Olympic Qualifier
When: June 19th, 2011
Where: Manama, Bahrain
Kickoff: 1700 GMT

TV: Al-Jazeera Sport +1, Bahrain Sport, Palestine TV
Stream: This link should broadcast Palestine TV's feed

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Toufic Ali (GK); Ahmad Salameh, Nadim Barghouthi, Mustafa Abu Kweik (c), Fayez Aslieh; Mohammed Al-Sadoody, Mahmoud Salah "Al-Koori"; Ali El-Khatib, Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb, Hicham Ali; Alaa Attieh OR Khaled Salem.

Background:

The big day has arrived and today's Olympic Qualifier against Bahrain could be the start of a truly special run. Although Palestine is only here because of Thailand's suspension, it is worth nothing that the team and coaching staff have bided there time well. The squad has come a long way from that first qualifier in Bangkok, where they left the pitch feeling relieved at limiting the damage to a 1-0 loss. The home leg saw Palestine strut their stuff for 120 minutes but could not manage more than a 1-0 win, eventually losing 5-6 on penalties.

Since their reprieve, however, the team has impressed in two friendlies while testing out a dozen new players. They played well in a 1-1 draw away to Lebanon but the lack of cold-blooded finishing had fans worried. Last week's stunning 3-0 result over a side featuring the best youngsters of Serie C/D has done wonders for confidence. Khaled Salem has found his scoring boots, Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb is pulling the strings in midfield, and the defensive duo of Barghouthi and Abu Kweik were at their imperious best. Add to the fact that this was accomplished without four Gazan players and Malmö FF winger Hicham Ali and you can see why confidence is at an all-time high.

Bahraini Preparations:

It seems weird, almost inexplicable how Bahrain has managed to feign a sense of calm amidst the arbitrary arrests and torture. But somehow the government and its FA have managed to escape punishment after booting Alaa and Mohammed Hubail along with Sayyed Mohammed Adnan from their clubs, imprisoning them, and torturing them. Well, in the midst of the craziness, Bahrain held a camp in Jordan where they drew 2-2 with their Olympic counterparts and beat Al-Yarmouk and Shabab Al-Hussein in practice games. Al-Ahmar last played Sudan in Manama, a friendly which saw the home team win 1-0. Manager Salman Sharida stated that the final friendly helped him settle on a starting eleven he is expected to field a 4-4-2 formation featuring:

Ashraf Waheed (GK); Ali Khalil, Mohammed Daij, Hussain Abdul-Jalil, Waleed Al-Hayyam; Hisham Mansoor, Hassan Jameel, Rashid Al-Huti, Fahad Shuwaiter (c), Mohammed Al-Taib, Mohammed Al-Ruhaimi

The team will lean heavily on the experience of Al-Huti and Al-Hayyam who were both with the senior team in Qatar during the Asian Cup.

Seven Debutants:

There is an element of the unknown to this team as manager Mokhtar "The Dinosaur" Al-Talili has called up seven new players to the fold. There is a wide variety of options as far as a starting line-up is concerned. In this particular area The Dinosaur is better than his senior team counterpart, Mousa Bezaz, who seems to devote little time to unearthing and developing new players.

Let's take a look at the seven newbies in the squad:

Alaa Attieh: 24 goals in as many games with Shajaeeya has seen the 20-year old attract the attention of Wehdat (JOR) and Al-Ahly (EGY). Attieh is a speed demon who thrives at his club despite the lack of good service he runs down defenders and loose balls much like the Mexican Javier Hernandez. Was selected to face Thailand but was denied entry into the West Bank by Israel. Is saying all the right things despite the intense speculation surrounding his future ("I don't care if I am selected I just want to win this game" and "My number one priority right now is the Olympic Team my decision regarding the future will have to wait").

Thaer Al-Bana: Merkaz Tulkarem midfielder played sparingly as a substitute in the Lega Pro friendly. Has admitted that the 3-0 win and a competent but not extraordinary performance helped punch his ticket to Manama.

Bashar Abu Nijmeh: One of the few bright spots in a miserable season for Shabab Al-Khaleel as a winger will probably struggle to see playing time ahead of the Hicham Ali and Ali El-Khabib. The like for like replacement for the young Amjad Zidan who was dropped from the squad.

Hamdan Abu Awad: Plays for Al-Bireh, a team that leans heavily on young talent. As a right winger will probably only see action as a substitute.

Mohammed Abu Dan: One of the older players in the squad at 22 years of age, Abu Dan could see action as a fullback seeing as how neither Aslieh nor Salameh were convincing in the two legs against Thailand. Plays for Gazan club Shabab Rafah

Anas El-Helu: Picked up a heel injury in training yesterday and will most likely not be able to play in tomorrow's game. Was voted as the best midfielder in the Gazan League this season.

Hazem El-Reikhawy: The modern day Lazarus; assumed dead after an Israeli rocket attack during the war on Gaza, he was left in a morgue fridge until a mother looking for her son noticed that the body laid out in front of her was still breathing. He managed a full recovery despite pieces of shrapnel remaining lodged in his leg. El-Reikhawy started the Lega Pro friendly alongside Khaled Salem but might be dropped in favor of the faster Alaa Attieh or an extra midfielder.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mousa Bezaz announces squad to face Afghanistan

Palestine manager Mousa Bezaz has finally announced the long awaited squad to face Afghanistan on June 29th in Tajikistan and July 3rd in Palestine. As we reported on Twitter yesterday, this squad selection is not without controversy. Only four changes are made from the weakened, largely domestic based squad that took part in Asian Challenge Cup Qualifiers in March.

Captain Ramzi Saleh has been omitted due to his continuing recovery from surgery on his knee although it is expected that he will be ready to face Thailand if Palestine advance.

Bezaz surprised many by omitting national team mainstay Majed Absidu. There were murmurs that Bezaz was unsatisfied by his performances at the WAFF Championship last Autumn. It was expected however that Al-Faisaly's (JOR) marauding fullback Shareef Adnan would step in to take his place. Adnan had made a return to the national team, appearing against Tanzania in February, after an 18-month hiatus. It seems that Ahmed Harbi's good Challenge Cup campaign has earned him not only a spot in the squad but a starting role. Other notable inclusions in the squad include Omar Jarun who should partner Abdelatif Bahdari in the heart of defence and Roberto Bishara who should solve that persistent problem on the left flank. This will be Bishara's first appearance under Mousa Bezaz.

The contingent in midfield remains unchanged from the group that represented Palestine in the Challenge Cup Qualifiers. Murad Ismail, who suffered an injury before the start of the March qualifiers, will expect to participate this time alongside Ma'ly Kawre', provided the Israelis allow him to travel. The other major news are the two notable omissions- Imad Zatara (Syrianska-Sweden) and Mohammed Samara (Arab Contractors-Egypt). The reasoning behind their absence is probably down to club commitments, although FIFA laws stipulate that players must be released on international match days. Samara is in the middle of an intense battle for Premier League survival with only six games to go. As far as Zatara is concerned he is known to pick and choose when and where he wants to show up for national team duty. Given that Zatara is just beginning to re-establish himself with Syrianska my hunch is that he was invited but gracefully declined. I expect both to be included in the squad to face Thailand if Palestine advances. I also expect the stars of the Olympic Team to be incorporated at that time as well.

In attack there are no surprises: Alyan will start thanks to his fine form for Hilal Al-Quds and Palestine. The question is who will partner him an established player like Ahmed Keshkesh or Fahed Attal or a newcomer like Eyad Abugharqud? Or will he Murad Alyan be deployed as a lone striker?

The complete squad called up to face Afghanistan in the first round of AFC World Cup Qualifying:

Goalkeepers:
Abdullah Saidawi (Hilal Al-Quds)
Mohammed Shbair (Shabab Al-Khaleel)
Fahed Al-Fakhuri (Thaqafi Tulkarem)

Defenders:
Ahmed Harbi (Al-Am'ary)
Khaled Mahdi (Al-Am'ary)
Samer Hijazi (Jabal Al-Mokaber)
Roberto Bishara (CD Palestino/Chile)
Hussam Abu Saleh (Hilal Al-Quds)
Samer Hijazi (Jabal Al-Mokaber)
Omar Jarun (FC Tampa Bay/USA)
Abdelatif Bahdari (Wehdat/Jordan)

Midfielders:
Ismail Amour (Al-Am'ary)
Houssam Wadi (Al-Am'ary)
Ma'ly Kawre' (Al-Am'ary)
Ayman Alhendi (Al-Am'ary)
Suleiman Obeid (Al-Am'ary)
Atef Abu Bilal (Dhahrieh)
Murad Ismail (Hilal Al-Quds)
Hesham Salhe (Hilal Al-Quds)
Khader Yousef (Wadi Al-Nes)
Ashraf Nu'man (Wadi Al-Nes)

Forwards:
Ahmed Keshkesh (Al-Am'ary)
Eyad Abugharqud (Al-Am'ary)
Murad Alyan (Hilal Al-Quds)
Fahed Attal (Wehdat/Jordan)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Palestine OT 3 : 0 Lega Pro Select

Highlights & Photos

Palestine Starting XI: Toufic Ali (GK); Fayez Aslieh, Mustafa Abu Kweik (c), Nadim Barghouthi, Ahmed Salameh; Ali El-Khatib, Mahmoud Salah "Al-Koori", Ahmed Mearry, Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb; Hazem Al-Raikhawy, Khaled Salem

Lega Pro Starting XI: Andrea Rosemi (GK), Rafaeli Pocino, Walter Zullo, Lors Tamonetti, Antonio Magli, Nicola Pizzo, Stefano Virnus, Deco Floquini, Antonio Vaca (c), Daniel Prato

Background: Over 25,000 spectators attended the inaugural game at Dura International Stadium, south of Hebron and witnessed the Fursan crush their Italian opposition 3-0. Many in the press have claimed that the team that was sent was Italy's Olympic Team when in fact it was a team made up of U-20 players plying their trade in Italy's third tier. The fact that the players showed up wearing the famous all-blue Azzurri kit only served to further establish the misconception.

Although Palestine had been in training camp for weeks before the match they went into this game without their manager Mokhtar "The Dinosaur" Al-Talili and four Gazan based players (Alaa Attieh, Mohammed Abu Dan, Mohammed Al-Sadoody, and Anas Al-Helu). The Dinosuar was not allowed to enter the West Bank under the arbitrary reasoning of Israel's occupying force. While the four Gazans were still with their clubs as the Gazan league only wrapped up action this past weekend. With a shorthanded squad, most were expecting the worst especially against such established, if in name only, opposition.

Recap: The match itself was a fairly open affair with chances for both sides to open the scoring. Antonio Vacca fluffed his lines inside the box by slicing the ball wide. One man intent on having a good showing was Khaled Salem, a player who did everything correctly in games against Thailand and Lebanon but failed to find the net. He forced a corner from Rosemi after only six minutes of play and missed a golden opportunity to open the scoring when he failed to connect properly with an Ali Al-Khatib cross. The Italians, for their part, responded with attacks of their but failed to test the lanky goalkeeper- Toufic Ali. The deadlock was broken on 22 minutes when Khaled Salem blasted a 35 yard free kick low and hard into the bottom left corner of the net.

The goal triggered euphoric celebrations in the stands and saw Palestine gain even more confidence. The situation was so dire for the Lega Pro Select team that a substitution was made in the 34th minute in an attempt to shore up the midfield.

The adjustment seemed to pay off for the Italians who started the second half by forcing Palestine to concentrate play in the middle of the pitch. The slower pace suited Lega Pro's game and they slowly started to come back into the match. Just as it seemed an equalizer was imminent Balata's Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb unlocked the Lega Pro defence with a fantastic through ball which Khaled Salem cooly finished to make 2-0 10 minutes after halftime. Lega Pro probably deserved a goal on the day, their technical ability was evident but they were overcome by the power and pace of Palestine's attacks. When a little more thought was needed in build-up play Abuhabeeb proved himself to be a very capable conductor. His fingerprints were all over the third goal as well when El-Khatib finished off a series of passes by blasting a stunning strike for the third goal. Lega Pro threw everything forward at that point but where stymied by the defensive duo of Barghouthi and Abu Kweik. Toufic Ali was also at the ready to sweep up anything that got past his front line.

Positives: A lot to choose from. Khaled Salem finally found his scoring boots, Abuhabeeb and Al-Khatib were adventurous and industrious, the defence kept a clean sheet, and the crowd was AWESOME. It is a great confidence boost for the players ahead of a winnable tie against Bahraind (June 19th & June 23)

Negatives: The match was heavily politicized by FA President Jibril Rajoub who made sure Fateh flags were flying in the crowd. Even more ridiculous where the giant faces of Fateh leadership gazing onto the pitch. To add insult to injury, Silvio Berlusconi's face was also included in the mural. It seems that the FA is oblivious to the fact that Berlusconi has declared that Israel should be allowed to join the EU and has rejected Palestinian attempts at statehood vis-a-vis a United Nations vote. If Rajoub wants to continue political life he should resign his post and do just that. Most of his antics reflect badly on the football fans in Palestine.

What's Next: The team is off to the UAE where they will undergo a three-day training camp (Gazan players in tow). They will then depart for Bahrain on the 18th, one day before the match is scheduled to be held. For their part Bahrain has wrapped up a training camp in Jordan where they managed a 1-1 draw against Jordan and wins over Shabab Al-Hussein and Al-Yarmouk. They also beat their Sudanese counterparts in Manama 1-0.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Olympic Team set for Lega Pro Friendly


Contrary to some of the reports you may have read in the Palestinian Press, the Olympic team will NOT be facing Italy on June 12th. The Palestinian FA have however organized a friendly in conjunction with their Italian counterparts (hence the confusion). The team the Italian FA will be a Lega Pro Select Team. There is no word as to the specific players that will be chosen but players plying their trade in the third and fourth division would make for more suitable opposition than a team featuring the likes of Balotelli and Santon. The game will be played at he newly refurbished Dora Stadium, outside of Hebron.

Mokhtar "The Dinosaur" Al-Talili has called up 26 players, 22 from the 10 WBPL teams that retained their top-flight status, one from Sweden, and three from the Gazan Leage. There are some new faces in the squad, The Dinosaur is obviously not happy with the team's lack of finishing and has called up seven strikers, four of whom are Olympic Team debutants. Mohammed Abu Rwaeis's inclusion is puzzling but the other three are interesting prospects: Alaa Atieh is wanted by both Wehdat and Al-Ahly of Egypt, Mohammed Abu Dan is battling out with Ateih for the leading scorer's title in the Gazan league.

The most intriguing player however is Al-Reikhawy- a modern day Lazarus who was assumed dead after being hit by shrapnel from an F-16 missile during Israel's attack on Gaza and put in a hospital morgue's refrigerator. A woman looking for her son was asked to identify the body when she noticed that the Al-Reikhawy was still breathing! Al-Reikhawy managed to make a miraculous recovery and still is able to play despite the pieces of shrapnel still imbedded in his leg.

The squad will be reduced to 23 players before the qualifier against Bahrain in Manama on June 19th (The return leg WILL be played in Palestine):

Goalkeepers:
Toufic Ali (Wadi Al-Nes)
Amr Abu Rwaies (Al-Am'ary)

Defenders:
Nadeem Barghouthi, Ahmed Salameh (Al-Am'ary)
Mustafa Abu Kweik (c) (Al-Bireh)
Fayez Aslieh (Shabab Al-Khaleel)
Samaha Jabareen (Dhahrieh)
Mohammed Al-Sadoody (Hilal Gaza)

Midfielders:
Hicham Ali (Rosengard/Malmö FF)
Thaer Qaraeen (Jabal Al-Mokaber)
Amjad Zidan (Wadi Al-Nes)
Mahmoud Al-Koori (Al-Am'ary)
Bashar Abu Nejmeh, Hamdan Abu Awad (Shabab Al-Khaleel)
Thaer Al-Bana (Merkaz Tulkarem)
Rida Da'amah (Thaqafi Tulkarem)
Ahmed Me'arry (Hilal Al-Quds)
Wisam Aqab, Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb (both Balata)

Forwards:
Ali Al-Khateeb (Jabal Al-Mokaber)
Jehad Saqr (Wadi Al-Nes)
Alaa Atieh (Shajaeeya)
Khaled Salem (Merkaz Tulkarem)
Mohammed Abu Rweis (Balata)
Hazem Al-Reikhawy (Dhahrieh)
Mohammed Abu Dan (Shabab Rafah)


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Transfer Bonanza 2011

Well, that's all she wrote folks. With Hilal Al-Quds wrapping up the FA Cup yesterday with a 2-0 win over Al-Dhahrieh we can set our sights on what is bound to be a very active offseason.

Six national team players plying their trade abroad are currently out of contract and will be looking for clubs. While there are interesting rumors regarding players who may be leaving and joining the Palestinian League. Here's a roundup of what we have read:

Majed Abusidu:

Re-upped for another year with Tadamon after rampant speculation that he'd be joining Al-Faisaly or Shabab Al-Ordon. The goal was to get the team back to the Premier League but the team failed to achieve that. It is almost certain that he will leave but we haven't heard of any interested teams. It is thought that his preferred option will be to stay in Kuwait to be close to his family.

Shareef Adnan:

Started most of Faisaly's games this season but has been told by the club that his services will not be needed. Al-Ra'ie as well as other sources have reported about a bizarre falling out with the manager over Adnan's request that a new set of boots be purchased. He is currently being linked with Shabab Al-Khaleel, who are in the midst of plotting a spending spree to restore their former glory.

Fahed Attal:

With Ahmed Keshkesh leaving the club there might be more playing time for Attal if he reaches a deal with Wehdat. He did manage to outscore Keshkesh but Wehdat's choice to sign Abdullah Dheeb from Shabab Al-Ordon might keep him on the bench. The unknown factor is what happens to the team in the offseason, if Shelbaieh gets an attractive offer from a club in the Gulf it could open up a window for a deal between Wehdat and Attal. If Attal does not re-sign he would attract interest from several clubs in Jordan.

Abdelatif Bahdari:

Has informed the Wehdat board that he will not be resigning and will pursue one of the current options on the table. Several WBPL sides are interested in acquiring him but the "Black Panther" will most likely be looking to test his mettle in a bigger league. He was being tracked by Egyptian giants Zamalek in January and it is also rumored that he has a mega offer from a Saudi club on the table.

Ahmed Keshkesh:

Thanked Wehdat for all their support over the past two years and announced his departure via facebook. The rumors mill has him going back to the WBPL to play for Al-Am'ary.

Ramzi Saleh:

The qualifying matches against Afghanistan and (if we advance) Thailand will be important for him. He must first prove his fitness to Mousa Bezaz and the technical staff and then parlay that into one of his dominant performances. If healthy, there will be a bevy of teams after his signature. He had two deals fall through last year only because of a problem with his ACL that he has had since he was 12. All reports say that the surgery in Germany went well and he has since resumed training.

Rafat Ali:

The 36 year-old Wehdat maestro was recently voted the best player in Jordan and his eternal youth and dominance make him a Middle Eastern Ryan Giggs. Shabab Al-Khaleel are currently looking to lure him across the border with a generous contract.

Alaa Attieh:

Perhaps the most talented Palestinian footballer you have never heard of. He was supposed to be included in the Olympic squad that faced Thailand but Israel got in the way at that. He currently plays of Al-Shajaeya in Gaza and at just 20 years old is coming off a season where he notched 22 goals. His performances have caused Al-Ahly (EGY) and Wehdat to take notice.