Friday, March 23, 2012

Challenge Cup Review

It's been exactly a week since Palestine was knocked out of the Challenge Cup by holders and eventual champions DPR Korea. We take a look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what the future holds for Al-Fursan:

No longer a fringe player

Best Player: Murad Ismail


The only Palestinian player to make our Challenge Cup Best XI. Ismail was adept at breaking up attacks and shielding the defence from the oppositions most dangerous midfielders and was split out wide at times to help cover for Hussam Abu Saleh's defensive frailties. In essence, whatever needed to be done to ensure Palestine a victory he did it- and with aplomb. Palestine had been missing a a true holding midfielder since the Abdalas (Pablo and Edgardo) left the national team fold, not anymore.



Samara: Underwhelming 

Biggest Disappointment: Mohammed Samara


Samara was great in the game against Azerbaijan setting up both goals with great pinpoint passing. When it came to the Challenge Cup Samara was the victim of certain circumstances- he was forced to play deeper and out of position to cover Palestine's defensive frailties. That said, a veteran like Samara still should have been able to set himself apart from the rest of the pack. Samara did that in spurts but not consistently enough to convince you that he was any different than the WBPL players out there.

Abuhabib: Awesome at senior level. 

Biggest Revelation: Abdelhamid Abuhabib


Reduced to a substitute's role Abuhabib's quality shined through in his first national team start against the Philippines. His brace made the headlines but his footballing intelligence is much underrated; Abuhabib reads the game so well that even when played out of position as a forward he is still deadly effective. I've said it before and I'll say it again- Abuhabib is the next big thing to come out of Palestine.


Jamal Mahmoud's Performance:


Ahead of schedule. Jamal Mahmoud has been in charge for 11 games now in the process he has managed to win five competitive fixtures against Bahrain, Sudan, Azerbaijan, Nepal, and Maldives. The minimum requirement for Palestine was to get out of its Challenge Cup group. Mahmoud achieved that and if it wasn't for an inspired performance by Imran Mohammed, Palestine would have won the group as well. You cannot fault him for the loss against a stronger DPR Korea side. The lone blemish on his record is the loss against the Philippines- Mahmoud probably should have realized that his players were not mentally up for the game and given an opportunity to a couple of his fringe players.


Maradona: The uneducated choice


Ridiculous Fans:


The crazy, uneducated, and obtuse seem to multiply at a furious rate on the Kooora boards. The moment Palestine were eliminated from the Challenge Cup the criticisms started to ring out:

"We need to stop acting like beating the Maldives and Nepal is some sort of achievement"


"Amour and Bahdari could have travelled with the National Team but they chose not to!"


"Look what Jordan has been able to do with Adnan Hamed! Jamal Mahmoud should be fired! Let's hire Maradona!"


First things first, beating anyone aside from the tiniest national teams (Guam, Bhutan, Macau, Timor Leste) is an achievement. I don't know where these guys were when we went 59 months without a win- Mahmoud delivered us five in three months! None of those games were gimmes. Adnan Hamed has been in charge of Jordan since early 2009 and that team really only came into its own in 2011. He had two wins in his first 11 games for God's sakes! Yes, we should fire the man who has the most wins in a three-and-a-half month period in our entire history! His replacement should be a man tactically deficient, a non-Arabic speaker, and should command a GIANT salary. Yes, perfect.

Abdelatif Bahdari and every other player who "apologized" are legally bound to play for their clubs on non-FIFA match days. There is no conspiracy-  Yes, Bahdari picked up a suspension but he also picked up an injury in the last game he played for Hajer (he didn't play against Al-Shabab tonight). Amour is injured- there is no need for further explanation.

Immediate Success = Not Good


Had Palestine found a way past DPR Korea and eventually, Turkmenistan it would have bred complacency amongst everyone involved with Palestinian Football. I can just imagine the discourse:

"We beat DPR Korea, a World Cup team, without our best players! We are going to do so well when the missing players join up!" 

We wouldn't enter Asian Cup qualifying because we had already qualified which would mean our ranking would dip. We would also miss out on the positive experience of playing competitive fixtures for two years ahead of the tournament proper. As for the 2014 Challenge Cup who knows if we would have entered or not. A three-and-out performance at Australia 2015 would have been a guarantee.

Now Palestine and Jamal Mahmoud are forced to be more proactive i. We will most surely enter the preliminary Asian Cup qualifying competition whilst also entering the 2014 Challenge Cup. Mahmoud has informed the press that he will go to Lebanon and the Gulf in order to scout players who could help the team (we could use new blood). Fans should be reminded that the national team is now in the hands of a competent manager and after five years in the wilderness is now moving in the right direction.