Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pan-Arab Squad Announced

As previously reported on our twitter account.

Jamal Mahmoud has called up 21 players to take part in the football tournament of the 2011 Pan-Arab Games. The list includes two players who ply their trade abroad: Goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh (Smouha FC/EGY), who will captain the squad and Syrianska (SWE) midfielder Imad Zatara who could receive his eighth cap after a five year layoff (Zatara did play against Dynamo Moscow in 2010).

Notable absences include Murad Alyan who has declined a call-up due to work commitments. Ahmed Keshkesh and Fahed Attal are also excluded presumably due to a lack of goal scoring form with their clubs.

Palestine are grouped with Jordan, Libya, and Sudan in their group- group winners as well as the best of the three runner-ups advance to the semifinals of the tournament. Ramzi Saleh will break Saeb Jendeya's cap record (70) if Palestine reach the final and he plays in all five games.

Ramzi Saleh (Smouha FC/EGY)
Mohammed Shbair (Shabab Al-Khaleel)
Toufic Ali (Wadi Al-Nes)

Ahmed Harbi (Al-Am'ary)
Hussam Abu Saleh (Hilal Al-Quds)
Haitham Dheeb (Hilal Al-Quds)
Raed Fares (Hilal Al-Quds)
Mohammed Al-Masri (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh)
Nadim Barghouthi (Shabab Al-Khaleel)

Imad Zatra (Syrianska/SWE)
Ismail Amour (Al-Am'ary)
Ma'ly Kawre' (Al-Am'ary)
Suleiman Obeid (Al-Am'ary)
Murad Ismail (Hilal Al-Quds)
Ali El-Khatib (Hilal Al-Quds)
Atef Abu Bilal (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh)
Ashraf Nu'man (Wadi Al-Nes)
Khader Yousef (Wadi Al-Nes)

Khaled Salem (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh)
Eyad Abugharqud (Shabab Al-Khaleel)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Catching Up with Omar Jarun

We last spoke with Omar back in February of 2009 when he was just leaving North American football to join Flota Swinoujscie in Poland. Since then, he joined Arka Gdynia in the Polish I Liga and has established his place as Center Back in the National Team after being called up for the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign. We sent him a few questions to catch up and get to know him more..he gave us some fun facts, talked about his career and left us with his impressions on Mousa Bezaz. Here is the text:

Quick hits:

Favorite Palestinian Dish? Mulukhia

The National Team Jersey- do you prefer the Green ones or the Red ones? Green
Shawerma or Falafel? Shawerma
Toughest player to defend in training? Keshkesh
Fastest player in the National Team? Amour
Your national team roommate Fahed Attal
A sport other than soccer American Football
Favorite pro sports teams Dallas Cowboys (NFL)
If you weren't playing soccer professionally what would you be doing for a living?
Working construction with my dads company, APEC.

Your first match with the national team(against Singapore in 2007) was in a near-empty stadium in Qatar. This time around, Palestine played its first World Cup Qualifiers at home. What was it like playing in the Faisal Husseini?

Playing in Palestine was fantastic. The fans were super. You couldn't ask for a better atmosphere. Obviously the result could have been better, but playing in Palestine I will never forget.

However short it was, you took part in our 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign from start to finish..including trips to Tajikistan and Bangkok. Any interesting stories?

The first morning in Tajikistan was pretty interesting. I was jet lagged so I woke up around 6:15. I went outside in the front of the hotel. It looked real cloudy you know like smoky or foggy. I asked the hotel reception, "Pretty foggy morning huh?" He said, " it's the smoke from bombs going off during the night from Afghanistan."

You and Abdel-Latif Bahdari are, for us and many, the first choice Centre-Back partnership..can you tell us a little about the relationship on and off the pitch?

Bahdari is a great player. He's confident on the ball and shows great leadership on the pitch. We have formed a good partnership in the center of defense. Communication between us is very good. When we play together, I feel the opponent has a difficult time breaking us down.

Clearing the ball in Palestine's 2-0 win over Afghanistan in Tursonzoda, Tajikistan

You've joined your third Polish Club- Arka Gdynia this past summer after a brief stint with FC Tampa Bay. How did that move come about? Were there any other offers on the table?

I reached an agreement with FC Tampa bay to part ways. It was handled in a professional manner by the Tampa bay front office and my manager Justin Stone. My old coach from my first club Flota got appointed the job at Arka Gdynia after Arka was relegated to the first league. He contacted me and was thrilled that I recently had become a free agent. I came over to Poland between the Afghanistan and Thailand matches. He wanted to make sure I was in good fitness. And I saw how professional Arka was so it was a no brainer to sign here.

Could you take us through the process of receiving a call-up to the national team? What steps does the PFA take to coordinate with your club?

Coach Mousa would email me and ask how I was doing and invite me to join the team. He wanted to know my clubs schedule. Mousa would then inform the federation, who would send an official letter to my club by fax. There was never any problems with the PFA contacting my club.

In action in the home leg vs. Thailand in Palestine

You had to wait three years to get your second cap with the national team- it must have been frustrating as there were reports you trained with Jordan...what do you think caused the coaching staff to overlook you?

Of course I was frustrated. I had no idea what was going on with the Palestinian National team. Osama, the team manager for Jordan, contacted me by phone and said it was possible to join Jordan. He claimed since I had not played in 3 years, there was a FIFA ruling that allowed me to switch national teams. They flew me to Amman the next week for 3 practices and they loved what they saw. The Iraqi coach, I forget his name, said Jordan and Palestine would work out this situation and I would be joining Jordan in the Asia cup.
Well it turned out to be a big mess. The PFA all of a sudden wanted me back in the team. Looking back I'm glad I did it because it made the PFA aware that I'm a good football player and here we are today.

With the winter break now upon us in Poland's Liga I. Will you be available to play in the Pan-Arab Games in December and the Challenge Cup in March? Have you had any contact with the new manager Jamal Mahmoud?

I am always available to join the national team when games correspond with official FIFA dates. Coach Nasser, who was the intern coach I guess before they appointed Coach Mahmoud, asked me to join the team in Qatar for the Pan-Arab games. I was thrilled. 2 days ago Awni, palestine team manager, informed me the coach does not want international based players for the Pan-Arab games. He is going to wait until the challenge cup. So it looks like I will be in Atlanta for the December break.
And no, I have not been in personal contact with coach Mahmoud.

On former coach Mousa Bezaz...

He and Nourdine were great for the Palestine national team. Training was very similar to what we do in Europe. They required all players to be fit and work hard day in and day out. I loved it.

Coach Mousa had a very strong personality and many people in the PFA did not like it. He was not a so called "yes" man. He knew what was right and what needed to be done in order for us to succeed. Coach Mousa spoke very highly to me about the football president Jabril. He told me how committed he was. Coach Mousa said that it was the other people around him, the political characters, who really don't have a clue about football were the ones causing problems all the time.

I can't say enough about how much Mousa transformed the national team. He made it professional. The difference was night and day from 3 years ago. I only pray that the PFA don't take steps backwards. We have made progress, huge steps, and we need to continue that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Preview: Lega Pro Select vs Palestine

Marcello Lippi will lead the Lega Pro side against Palestine.

What: Unofficial Friendly
When: 23/11/2011
Where: Assisi, Italy
Kickoff: 1230 GMT

Jamal Mahmoud will lead Palestine for the third time in an unofficial friendly ahead of next month's Pan-Arab Games. This time the opponent will be the Lega Pro Select team that the Olympic team defeated 3-0 in June.

Contrary to what has been reported the team that has travelled is not the Olympic side. In fact, there are some players who are over the age limit of 23 (Suleiman Obeid, Ma'ly Kawre', Khader Youssef, Raed Fares):

Amr Abu Rweis (Balata)
Toufic Ali (Wadi Al-Nes)

Ahmad Salameh (Al-Am'ary)
Mustafa Abu Kweik (Al-Bireh)
Adham Abu Rweis (Balata)
Raed Fares (Hilal Al-Quds)
Nadim Barghouthi (Shabab Al-Khaleel)

Suleiman Obeid (Al-Am'ary)
Mahmoud "El-Koori" Salah (Al-Am'ary)
Ma'ly Kawre' (Al-Am'ary)
Abdelhamid Abuhabib (Balata)
Ali El-Khatib (Hilal Al-Quds)
Ahmed Me'ari (Hilal Al-Quds)
Khader Youssef (Wadi Al-Nes)
Amjad Zidan (Wadi Al-Nes)

Hazem "Lazarus" El-Reikhawy (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh)
Khaled Salem (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh)

Jamal Mahmoud has given a lifeline to Ali El-Khatib who was handed a yearlong suspension by Hilal Al-Quds for alleged match fixing. Mahmoud was in charge of Hilal Al-Quds when that suspension was doled out- so this development is bizarre, to say the least.

This game will give an opportunity to some of the Olympic Team players to win a spot on the senior team. Jamal Mahmoud's inclusion of senior team players should give an idea of how they will mesh with the current setup.

The Opponents
Perhaps the most impressive thing about them is that they will be lead by Marcello Lippi- Yes, the same guy who managed Italy to World Cup glory in 2006 and World Cup ignominy in 2010. The squad will be made up of the most promising young players in Italy's third division. Only Walter Zullo was part of the squad that lost 3-0 to Palestine in Dora.

The will be overseen by an all-female crew of referees led by Silvia Tea Spinelli. The national team has been kitted out- puffy jackets and all- by Legea. The jersey unveiled at the press conference looked like an Atletico de Madrid or Red Star Belgrade shirt with prominent red and white stripes.

BAVENA Andrea 3/4/1990 Calcio Portogruaro Summaga S.r.l.
GIORDANO Daniele 3/4/1991 A.C. Perugia Calcio S.r.l.

D’AGOSTINO Giovanni 8/23/1991 U.S. Vibonese Calcio S.r.l.
MASI Alberto 9/2/1992 F.C. Pro Vercelli 1892 S.r.l.
MECCARIELLO Biagio 3/27/1991 A.S. Andria Bat S.r.l.
PRIOLA Giusto 5/26/1990 Trapani Calcio S.r.l.
SIGNORINI Andrea 1/31/1990 Benevento Calcio S.p.A.
ZULLO Walter 5/3/1990 Calcio Como S.r.l.

BIGONI Marco 12/3/1990 S.S. Chieti Calcio S.r.l.
CARRETTA Mirko 11/23/1990 Benevento Calcio S.p.A.
COPPOLA Mario 8/7/1990 Calcio Portogruaro Summaga S.r.l.
FARONI Alessandro 1/3/1991 A.C. Lumezzane S.p.A.
MANZO Stefano 2/2/1990 U.S. Gavorrano S.r.l.
SICILIANO Pasquale 5/5/1991 Paganese Calcio 1926 S.r.l.

CAIRA Gianmarco 4/4/1991 A.C. Isola Liri S.r.l.
FISCHNALLER Manuel 7/20/1991 Fussballclub Sudtirol S.r.l.
PACI Tommaso 6/16/1991 A.C. Giacomense S.r.l.
SPAGNA Stefano 1/18/1991 A.S. Melfi S.r.l.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Assessing Mahmoud's first performance

As Aboud highlighted in an earlier post- there is a lot to like about Jamal Mahmoud's appointment as National Team Manager. Two 1-1 draws against South Africa's AmaBinnePlaas had plenty of positives but also emphasized room for improvement. Mahmoud's next act as manager will be to lead the Olympic team against the Lega Pro Select team on November 23rd in Italy.

Strength of Opposition
Perhaps the most talked about aspect of the friendlies against South Africa was the fact that the SAFA had not sent the first squad. Instead they sent their developmental side which many fans saw as a slight against the National Team. It is important to note, however that the side they sent was a strong and competent one- the scorer of the goal in the Dora game- Bheki Shabango plays in the ASABA Premiership for Engen Santos. The goalkeepers Ronwen Williams and Brilliant Khuzwayo in both matches have experience with U20 and Olympic teams, respectively. The initial list of players published for the games (for the cancelled fixtures in September) included seven ASABA Premiership players, three first division players, four youth teamers, and five players who were out of contract. Not a world beating squad by any means but certainly not a poor squad either. It was evident that the team the SAFA sent wanted to compete and win and as a result both games did not feel like friendlies.

Overall, Palestine was the stronger of the two teams in both legs and the fact that they did not win either game shows that there is work to be done. The positive thing is that the result against Iran is now dead and buried and the team and coaching staff can start anew.

Leadership & Awareness
Realizing that his captain and starting goalkeeper was available due to the suspension of Egyptian League play Mahmoud moved quickly to call up Ramzi Saleh. This is exactly the kind of leadership that is needed at the helm. Under Moussa Bezaz, it was like some players based abroad simply didn't exist. Omar Jarun wasn't called up until 18 months into the Frenchman's tenure, Roberto Bishara saw the pitch twice under his reign, and Mohammed Samara played a whopping 60 minutes. This shows that Mahmoud knows who his important players are and how serious he is in building a strong team that can win the Challenge Cup in March.

Shape and Formations
Mahmoud's side in the Dora game came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation but one that looked awfully like a 3-5-2 when the team had the ball. Harbi pushed up as he normally does and Fares playing on the left was asked to tuck in as the defence shifted to account for Harbi's position. Amour made constant forays forward, essentially becoming a support striker to Murad Alyan (see below).

Palestine vs. South Africa (Dora:11/11/11)

The personnel and formation were tweaked in the second game. Palestine played a narrower 4-2-3-1 depending on the overlapping runs of Fares and Abu Saleh for width. Ashraf Nu'man and Atef Abu Bilal strutted their stuff for the first 45 minutes but failed in their primary task- getting service to Keshkesh. For his part, Keshkesh wasn't making the diagonal runs Alyan is known for in search of that service. Obeid, positioned in the heart of the attack, struggled and Palestine opted for a more direct approach down the wings as result (see below).

Palestine vs. South Africa (Nablus: 15/11/11)

Perhaps the most surprising element over the two matches was seeing Ahmed Harbi deployed as centreback (in the Nablus game). Not known for his defensive prowess as a right-back and having started his professional career inside the Green Line as a winger, Harbi seems more comfortable further up the pitch. The Al-Am'ary man was adept at bringing the ball out of defence but his lack of experience showed when he erred in the second half giving a South African player a clear path to goal; If not for a world class save from Ramzi Saleh the AmaBinnePlaas would have take a 2-1 lead. Unless Palestine are suddenly bereft of centrebacks (Jarun, Bahdari, Al-Masri, Dheeb, Mahdi, Barghouthi, Rabie, and Abu Kweik would have to be ahead of him in the pecking order) I can't see Harbi being played in this position again.

The more promising development was seeing Raed Fares put in a solid 180 minutes at left back. The position has been a problem area for Palestine since the retirement of Francisco Alam. With Roberto Bishara's intermittent availability it was crucial that a suitable replacement be found. Fares is a right back with Hilal Al-Quds so it will be interesting to see if the left back- Ehab Abujazr gets the call sometime in the future.

In the Dora game, we got to see Amour played further up the pitch supporting Murad Alyan. It gave the supremely talented Gazan an opportunity to make his presence felt and he did not disappoint- scoring a goal in the 9th minute. His ability to influence a game is far greater than that of his club teammate, Suleiman Obeid, who is guilty of drifting in and out of matches.

Keshkesh was played as a lone striker in the game in Nablus. Despite his second half goal you would have to say that he was far from his normal self. Palestine looked far more dangerous when Khaled Salem came on in his place. Keshkesh is more of a withdrawn striker and my guess is that he will be allowed to play behind Murad Alyan at some point in the future.

The Jury is still out on...
The holding midfield. In general Khader Yousef, Ma'ly Kawre', Ismail Qasem, and Musa Abujazr did well in shielding the defence. Going forward they needed to be better and quicker in their decision making. Khader Youssef is supposed to be the focal point in this formation, he gets the team moving from defence to attack. Mahmoud's instructions have him better positioned on the pitch and he is no longer shirking his defensive duties. That said, he still needs to work on timing and releasing the ball if this team is to emulate the counterattacking success Jordan has enjoyed in recent months.

Palestine's exuberance often leads to early goals and is great to watch but it can be exploited by smarter opposition. The statistics will show that Palestine played the ball into the box numerous times and got into the attacking third with regularity. That said they seem to lack patience around the box favoring a shot or ill-advised cross instead of an extra couple of passes.
Hopefully, the problems are solved before the Pan-Arab Games in December and the Challenge Cup in March.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1:1 South Africa B

Palestine Starting XI (4-2-3-1):
Ramzi Saleh (C); Abu Saleh, Harbi, Al-Masri, Fares; Khader Youssef (Qasem), Musa Abujazr; Atef Abu Bilal (Amour), Obeid (Abugharqud), Nu'man; Keshkesh (Khaled Salem)

Goals: Ahmed Keshkesh 49'

Jamal Mahmoud tinkered with his squad making six changes to the starting lineup that faced the same opposition on Friday. The most notable change was Ramzi Saleh making his much anticipated return to the national team. There was also some tinkering that saw Abu Saleh and Harbi play the entire match as a right back and centreback, respectively. Further up the pitch Musa Abujazr was played as a pivote whilst Atef Abu Bilal, Ashraf Nu'man, Ahmed Keshkesh were also handed starts.

Better Play
Both South Africa and Palestine seemed to benefit from the added days of practice and guidance under their respective managers. The first half saw fewer individual errors and better team play. South Africa was somewhat successful in imposing their will and preferred pace on the game- it was during this spell that they grabbed their goal. Palestine put two chances off the post and had many chances to win this game but in the end couldn't capitalize.

Keshkesh Goal
Not the prettiest goal- but a heads up play, goals are goals after all. It's important that Keshkesh show his value to the team- this marks his first goal since the unofficial friendly vs. FC Brussels in April 2009. Keshkesh is part of a team in crisis at Al-Am'ary so his call-up came as a surprise. He'll have to do more to seat the incumbent striker- Murad Alyan but this goal didn't hurt. It will be interesting to see how Keshkesh will be used going forward because he (and Attal for that matter) struggle as lone forwards- Palestine looked more menacing up front when Khaled Salem came on.

Amour Ejection
A very harsh call but I don't blame the referee. In fact, I think he did Amour and Jamal Mahmoud a favor. It is obvious that Amour is one of the most talented players in Palestine when he is on his feet. The problem is that Amour tends to go to ground way to easily and when he a foul isn't whistled the opposition are already racing down the other end of the pitch. Amour needs to be told that he can do so much more, that if he was a bit more patient shielding the ball he could be setting up teammates for goals. It's a kink in his game that needs to be ironed out.

What's Next: Pan-Arab Games are slated for December. Palestine in Group C alongside Libya, Jordan, and Sudan. Challenge Cup draw on December 1st.

My thoughts on Jamal Mahmoud, and why its a good thing

So after the national team was in a coaching vacuum for what seemed like forever (3 and a half months) after Mousa Bezaz got canned, the PFA finally announced Jamal Mahmoud as the National Team Manager. Mahmoud had a distinguished tenure with Wehdat in the Jordan top tier before taking charge of Hilal AlQuds last season leading them to second place in the league. What is more impressive is the club's performance under him this year: they are on top of the league with a perfect record.

Knowing my co-blogger Bassil, and his attention to detail, Mahmoud is in for a thorough vetting. So I will focus on more general analysis.

Firstly, when I heard of the appointment, it immediately made sense! We considered many different candidates in our frustration and we even got in touch with former manager Alfred Riedl (we are big fans). But I'll be honest, I did not even think of having a WBPL coach take the reigns (though Bassil did mention Hisham al Zoabi in a previous post). I always maintained that we need a manager that understands Palestinian football and at the same time has technical excellence. Mahmoud should have been obvious had we considered the possibility of simultaneous jobs.

If Jamal Mahmoud's resume can tell you anything, its that hes a winner. He won multiple championships with Wehdat both as a player and a coach and is doing fantastically with Hilal. I don't care how many coaching certifications one has, a winning mentality isn't something that can be taught(I'm talking to you Mousa Bezaz, if it wasn't obvious).
Jamal also knows the league inside out..he practically lives in it! What better way to scout for players than by seeing them play every week?

Now this may be subjective, but I sense a charisma from him off the bench. During the South Africa games he was standing up and barking orders at the players on the pitch. Compare that to Bezaz...who if you mistook for a spectator during matches, you could be forgiven.

Lastly, Mahmoud will definitely have a stronger connection with the players than any foreign coach would have.

This is probably my most optimistic post in the past two years..My optimism however doesn't always translate..just for fun, heres the post on Bezaz's appointment back in '09.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Preview: Palestine vs. South Africa B (Unofficial Friendly)

International Football comes to Nablus

What: Unofficial Friendly
Where: Municipal Stadium, Nablus, Palestine
Kickoff: 1500 (Local)
TV: Palestine Satellite Channel
Stream: ?

Previous Encounters:
11/11/2011: Palestine 1:1 South Africa (developmental)

NT in Nablus
Many Neopolitans will get to see their national team in the flesh for the first time when Palestine takes on South Africa on Tuesday. Entering and exiting Nablus has become an arduous task due to Israeli checkpoints which surround the city.

Ramzi's Return?
According to Kora Baladna Ramzi Saleh has made the trip to the West Bank and will start tomorrow's game. This is not one of the source we lean heavily upon here at Football Palestine but it has resulted in some chatter. According to the article (which cites a telephone conversation with the goalkeeper) there may even be a chance he participates at the Pan-Arab Games- contingent on how long Egyptian league play is suspended while the U23 team attempt to qualify for London 2012.

Shuffling the Deck
Jamal Mahmoud will look to give an opportunity to players to the players who did not see the pitch in Friday's game. A goalkeeping change will most likely be instituted with Shbair making way for Ramzi Saleh (or Abdullah Saidawi- if Ramzi's presence in camp turns out to be a rumor). Atef Abu Bilal and Ahmed Keshkesh should get a start here in place of Suleiman Obeid and Ismail Amour the latter of which will most likely start on the right of midfield.

Injuries- The PFA reported that Hussam Abu Saleh and Ahmed Harbi picked up knocks in Friday's encounter. Hani Abu Bilal is likely to get the start if one or both are not able to recover in time.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1:1 South Africa B

Palestine Starting XI (5-3-2): Shbair (GK) Abu Saleh, Barghouthi, Al-Masri, Fares, Harbi; Kawre', Obeid, Khader Youssef; Amour (c), Alyan.

Substitutes On: Ismail Qasem, Eyad Abugharqud, Hani Abu Bilal, Musa Abujazr, Khaled Salem, Ashraf Nu'man.

Recap: Palestine rebounded well from last month's rout at the hands of Iran. Jamal Mahmoud's side included plenty of familiar faces but produced a different result. For one, their was better tactical awareness and players knew what to do when they had the ball and when they lost the ball. More importantly, we saw players being played in positions that highlighted their strengths. Harbi and Abu Saleh were deployed as marauding wingbacks, free to attack and provide service for the forwards. Amour was played more centrally making his runs and his ability to score from outside the box more of a factor. As for the opposition while certainly not South Africa's finest they were by no means a poor team. Palestine was the stronger team in the first half. The Bafana Bafana or Amabinneplaas as the development team is called came into the game in the second half and grabbed a deserved equalizer in the 80th minute. For a managerial debut made on short notice Jamal Mahmoud can be pleased with the performance of his team. There are still several kinks that need to be ironed out but this was a positive first step.

What I liked: The new shape unveiled by Jamal Mahmoud helps Palestine mask their deficiency at fullback. This could be used to great effectiveness with the starting backline Roberto Bishara rarely plays left back anymore and could form a dominant triumvirate alongside Omar Jarun and Abdelatif Bahdari.

What I didn't like: The politicization of every football match is nauseating. Can't we just play a football match without having see the players run past giant posters of controversial foreign leaders? Just fly the Palestinian Flag next to the flag of the other country we are playing, no need for the posters and slogans. Since Rajoub took charge of the FA posters of Ramzan Kadryov, Vladimir Putin, Dimitry Medvedev, Zine El-Abedin Ben Ali, Silvio Berlusconi, Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Mohammed Bin Hammam, and Jacob Zuma have been hung in our stadiums. Take a look at that list- not a lot of international credibility there.

The Opponent: The developmental team allows players in South Africa the chance to increase their stock by playing international matches. Some are youngsters on the fringes of the first team others are established players without a club and some are guys the South African FA would like to see get more experience. The team has previously represented South Africa at the COSAFA Cup and the African Nations Championship. As for an official squad list- I haven't been able to find one. It's easy to dismiss them but let's remember that Palestine's team is without its starting keeper and back line.

What's Next: The two teams will face off again on November 15th in Nablus.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Preview: Palestine vs. South Africa (Unofficial Friendly)

The Bafana Bafana take in Bethlehem

When: 11/11/11
Where: Dora, Palestine
Kickoff: 1530 Local

Streams/TV: TBA

Previous Encounters: None

Palestine will face a 'developmental' South Africa squad twice in the next week. The first of such encounters is tomorrow (November 11th) with another slated for Tuesday (November 15th). For the fourth straight encounter Palestine will be led by a different manager- Jamal Mahmoud- the current Hilal Al-Quds manager. Unlike his predecessors he will be given the role on a permanent basis with Rajoub announcing that Mahmoud will be in charge for the Pan-Arab Games next month and the 2012 Challenge Cup in March (more on his hiring in a later post).

The squad selection was most likely made before Jamal Mahmoud got the call (I have a hard time believing he would overlook Raed Fares, Ehab Abujazr, Murad Ismail, and other key players in his Hilal Al-Quds side) and it is perplexing as per usual. Despite both friendlies falling on FIFA dates the PFA has failed to secure the services of any of the players based abroad. Furthermore, seven Al-Am'ary players have made the squad despite the club dropping four out of its previous five matches- an event which led to the resignation of Hesham Al-Zoabi.

There is also a prevailing imbalance in the squad with four keepers and five forwards being listed. If no more than two goalkeepers will see action why take more? The goalkeeping hierarchy is pretty clear- Ramzi Saleh is the starter Abdullah Saidawi and Mohammed Shbair are his backups. Toufic Ali is promising but very raw and can learn a lot from being present in camp but Assem Abu Asi's inclusion serves no purpose.

In defence, the exclusion of Jehad Rabie is frustrating. The Shabab Al-Khaleel man he has consistently outshone Nadim Barghouthi who has been played more often as a holding midfielder. Seeing Hussam Abu Saleh listed as a defender gives more credence to the theory that the PFA picked this squad. Jamal Mahmoud deploys Abu Saleh as a winger, his RB is Raed Fares-who hasn't been called up. Ismail Qasem is a holding midfielder- which is precisely the type of player Palestine needs more of but is most certainly not a defender.

Unless there is an impending change in the way Palestine plays its football the inclusion of five forwards is simply unnecessary. Eyad Abugharqud and Murad Alyan have been on form but the others have been average. Attal and Keshkesh are experienced but there needs to be a realization that form can outweigh experience. Mahmoud's greatest challenge will be getting Keshkesh and Attal to replicate their form while with Wehdat. Khaled Salem is ongoing project- he he is fast, strong, and great in the air but still has a lot to learn- and should take this opportunity to learn as much as he can from Murad Alyan.

Palestine Squad:

GK: Abdullah Saidawi (Hilal Al-Quds), Mohammed Shbair (Shabab Al-Khaleel), Assem Abu Asi (Al-Am'ary), Toufic Ali (Tarji Wadi Al-Nes)

DF: Nadim Barghouthi (Shabab Al-Khaleel), Ahmed Harbi, Ahmed Salameh (both Al-Am'ary), Haitham Dheeb, Hussam Abu Saleh (both Hilal Al-Quds), Mohammed Al-Masri, Ismail Qasem (both Shabab Al-Dhahrieh)

MF: Ismail Amour, Suleiman Obeid, Ma'ly Kawre', (all Al-Am'ary), Atef Abu Bilal (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh), Khader Youssef (Tarji Wadi Al-Nes)

FW: Murad Alyan (Hilal Al-Quds), Ahmed Keshkesh (Al-Am'ary), Khaled Salem (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh), Fahed Attal, Eyad Abugharqud (both Shabab Al-Khaleel)

*This was the squad announced in September when the fixture was first scheduled to be held. There is no confirmation of the squad at the time of writing.

FP's Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Saidawi; Salameh, Al-Masri, Dheeb, Harbi; Barghouthi, Qasem; Atef Abu Bilal, Khader Youssef, Ismail Amour; Murad Alyan.

Monday, November 7, 2011

2011/12 WBPL Midseason Assessment

With 9 games played, Hilal Al-Quds have a 100% percent record (counting the abandoned match vs. Al-Am'ary as a win). Their closest rivals- Shabab Al-Khaleel are 8 points adrift on 19 points and it is becoming increasingly harder to find anyone serious challengers to the Jerusalem club's dominance. The team has come under pressure this season- but from outside forces. The team's chairman accused of Shabab Al-Khaleel of trying to buy the result of their Week 7 matchup. There was also a feud with the PFA over the right to wear a jersey with a Wataniya sponsorship- which resulted in them wearing a red jersey in one of their games. To top it all off, Hilal Al-Quds suspended one of their best players Ali El-Khatib indefinitely.

Al-Am'ary, last season's champions, have been underwhelming to say the least. Despite abundant attacking talent and a hot start (the team won it's first three games of the season) Al-Am'ary have wilted under the pressure. It's not the first time league champion has struggled in a title defence. Jabal Al-Mukaber finished a mere four points above the relegation zone last year and in the year before that Wadi Al-Nes finished in a distant fourth- an equal 10 points off first place and relegation.

Hilal Al-Quds: Destined to lift the League Trophy?

If Hilal Al-Quds look certain to lift the title then Merkaz Tulkarem look certain to go down. The Yellow and Blue have yet to win a game and although they miraculously escaped relegation last year they don't look like doing it again this year. Part of this is because key players like Khaled Salem and Maen Jamal moved to other clubs in the offseason. Unfortunately for the Yellow and Blue, the talent needed to succeed at this level is simply not there.

The rest of the league is a jumbled mess. Tarji Wadi Al-Nes started out slow but have since found their form thanks in part to the return of Said Al-Sobakhi. Shabab Al-Dhahrieh started off hot but have since lost their form. The Oryxes of the South have a side bursting with quality: Mohammed Al-Masri is one of the league's best defenders and Atef Abu Bilal is relentless attacking machine. If Khaled Salem, Yahya Al-Sobakhi, Ahmed Maher, or Amir Abu Arrar (who have all scored this season) can develop into a double-digit scorer then this team will be a force in the second half of the season.

Balata have retained that pesky resilience from last year but have suffered a sophomore slump of sorts. The team has become less effective in attack- averaging half a goal less as compared to last season. Through 9 games Balata has a mere 9 goals (they had 15 at this point last year) part of this has to do with Abdelhamid Abuhabib's form which has been poor by his lofty standards. That said he has played well enough to ensure Balata are one point above defending champions Al-Am'ary. Abuhabib hasn't been doing it on his own either- Arafat Abu Serhan has been a revelation in midfield playing well enough to earn a national team call-up.

The rest of the league sees Thaqafi Tulkarem battling Al-Bireh and Jabal Al-Mukaber for the right to remain in the WBPL. One word sums up these sides- inconsistent. Al-Bireh started off the season by finding ways to throw away points from winning positions. They have bolstered their position with back-to-back wins vs. the Tulkarem sides. Thaqafi had to wait until the fifth week of the season to earn its first points. A pulsating 3-2 win over neighbors Merkaz which feature three goals inside 90 minutes sealed it for the Maroons. They followed up that success with a 2-0 win over Balata but have only managed an additional point since. If the season ended today, both Tulkarem sides would be relegated.

Which brings us to Jabal Al-Mokaber who can't seem to find out if they're magnificent or moribund. The Jekyll and Hyde performance throughout the season has left fans guessing as to which team might show up from week to week. The Mt. Scopus based club lost its opener 4-0 to Hilal Al-Quds but won their next game against Thaqafi by the same score. In the 3rd week they beat Merkaz Tulkarem 3-0 only to lose to Balata the following week by a 2-0 scoreline. They also 5-0 and 4-0 losses to the Hebron clubs on their record this season but have also pulled off a 3-2 upset of Al-Am'ary following those disappointing results. Where they go from here is a mystery but one thing is for sure- it will be a fun and unpredictable ride.

Team of the (Mid)Season:
GK- Mohammed Shbair (Shabab Al-Khaleel): Slightly edged Saidawi whose team has often left him with not a lot to do. Shbair has played a more direct role in Shabab Al-Khaleel's success this season.

CB- Haitham Dheeb (Hilal Al-Quds): Nicknamed 'The Octopus' by Hilal fans, Dheeb has been an omnipresent force in the team this year. Anchors a defence that has allowed a paltry two goals.

CB- Mohammed Al-Masri (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh): Handed an unfair task in his first national team cap but make no mistake Al-Masri is one of the best in the WBPL.

CB- Jehad Rabie (Shabab Al-Khaleel): Probably the main reason why Shabab Al-Khaleel are in second place now. Nadim Al-Barghouthi also owes his defensive partner a great deal of gratitude as his play has masked Barghouthi positional deficiencies.

RW- Ismail Al-Amour (Al-Am'ary): The only consistent element of a very inconsistent side, tireless runner always able to create something out of nothing.

CM- Mahmoud "Al-Koori" Salah (Al-Am'ary): Grabs a place on this list simply because Al-Am'ary look lost without him shielding the defence. The team went into a tailspin after he left to captain the U-19 side in AFC Championship qualifying.

CM- Arafat Abu Serhan (Balata): Probably will not land on many team of the season lists but his presence in midfield make Balata dangerous. He frees up Abuhabib to go forward and puts in solid work that make results like the 1-0 defeat of Shabab Al-Khaleel possible.

CM- Maen Jamal (Hilal Al-Quds): Will not get the headlines Murad Alyan or Fadi Lafi get but he has made Hilal more dynamic. His movement makes it possible for the team to win even if Alyan fails to score- something they struggled with last season.

LW- Atef Abu Bilal (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh): The Oryxes best player, is involved in nearly every build-up and goal the team puts together. Has had a more convincing season than his national team competition Ashraf Nu'man.

FW- Eyad Abugharqud (Shabab Al-Khaleel): Despite departing Al-Am'ary in the offseason he has not missed a beat. His 8 goals make him the second top scorer. Its hard to see how he'll fit in with the national team as his style is predicated on balls being played through to him. He'll need to adapt and learn how to play as a lone striker.

FW- Murad Alyan (Hilal Al-Quds): Perhaps the best player this season (again) he plays with exuberance and urgency of a man ten years younger. Averaging more than a goal per game.

Flop of the Season: The Yasser Arafat Cup- a preseason tournament has yet to be concluded and we're halfway through the league calendar.