Thursday, January 19, 2012

Palestine to face Azerbaijan in Dubai


Palestine will make history once again next month when it faces its first UEFA side since re-entering FIFA in 1998. The friendly will take place next month on the first official FIFA match day of 2012 (February 29th) with Dubai playing host to both teams. 

The team will use the fixture to prepare for the upcoming AFC Challenge Cup while Azerbaijan is looking to stay sharp ahead of UEFA World Cup qualification in September. 

Al-Fursan will face Azerbaijan's Caspian neighbors, Turkmenistan, in their second group match slated for March 10th. Azerbaijan's next competitive fixture is a World Cup Qualifier against Israel in September. It looks likely that geographical proximity played a role in scheduling this fixture. The hope for both sides is that they can get acclimated to playing against a certain style although seeing as how Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan (and by extension Palestine and Israel) play in different confederations it might not work out that way. 

Azerbaijan is led by former Germany and Scotland manager Berti Vogts, he has been at the helm since 2008 and recently led the side to their best ever total points haul in a qualification campaign- beating Turkey and Kazakhstan at home and holding Belgium to a 1-1 draw. The Azerbaijanis also have a penchant for organizing friendlies with West Asian opponents having played Bahrain (1-0-0), Iran (0-1-2), Iraq (0-0-1), Jordan (1-1-0), Kuwait (0-2-0), Oman (0-0-2), Saudi Arabia (0-0-1) and the United Arab Emirates (0-1-0). 

This fixture might present a dilemma for Jamal Mahmoud as it is looking increasingly unlikely that the side will have any of its foreign based players for the Challenge Cup (Omar Jarun excepted). Mahmoud will be able to call them up for this fixture due to it falling on an official FIFA match day. With the first game of the Challenge Cup eight days later, Mahmoud might be forced to exclude his best players in order to better prepare those able to participate in the Challenge Cup. 

Azerbaijan are currently 111th in the latest FIFA rankings 51 spots above Palestine.