Monday, May 7, 2012

2011/12 Season Wrap-Up

A second year of fully-fledged professional football in Palestine is in the books. While the 2011/12 season has been mired with the lack of footballing action in Gaza- there have been some notable highlights.

Hilal Al-Quds lift the league




In the first half of the league, the Lions from the capitol city were absolutely superlative. Their 4-0 demolition of Jabal Al-Mukaber on the opening day of the season as well as their 3-0 win over 2010/11 League Champions- Al-Am’ary. During the season’s first half no one could match Hilal Al-Quds in league play- they romped to nine straight wins conceded a mere 3 goals and blew past most opposition- they were only truly tested by the Hebron duo- Shabab Dhahrieh and Shabab Al-Khaleel.


Hilal Al-Quds stumbled in the second half of the season- dropping points to bottom club Merkaz Tulkarem on Matchday 10 followed by a tepid 1-0 loss to Jabal Al-Mukaber. That reverse ended an impressive a 16-month 31-match unbeaten run in the WBPL.

A 1-0 loss to chief league rivals Shabab Al-Khaleel prompted the resignation of Jamal Mahmoud who wanted to dedicate all his time to the National Team. The Challenge Cup break came at the right time for the Lions as the time off gave the club an opportunity to steady the ship. Hilal Al-Quds won their remaining three matches with minimal fuss spurred on by their talisman, Murad Alyan.

Shabab Al-Dhahrieh: Cup Meisters




The Oryxes did quite well in the WBPL this year managing a third place finish after notching up 10 wins 4 draws and 4 losses. But it was in the cup competitions where the club truly shined. Taking full advantage of Shabab Al-Khaleel’s and Hilal Al-Quds’s group stage exits in the Yasser Arafat Cup winning all their games en route to the final; where they beat Al-Am’ary on penalties after the scoreless draw.

The team was even more impressive in the Palestine Cup. Playing without their captain- defender Mohammed Al-Masri- the team crushed Abn’a Al-Quds (5-1), Silwan (3-1), Merkaz Balata (3-0), and Ahli Al-Khaleel (5-2). Faced with the defending champion, Hilal Al-Quds, in the final the team executed an astute game plan that seemed to come straight out the José Mourinho playbook. Hilal Al-Quds were given the freedom to dominate the wings but the moment anyone came inside they were met with a swarm of green shirts. It may have been different for Hilal Al-Quds had Murad Alyan been eligible to play, but you have to credit to Said Abu Taher for reading the game correctly and sending out his team prepared and ready to win.

With Khaleel Al-Sane’ and Mohammed Al-Masri retiring from professional football the torch will be passed on to a promising crop of youngsters at the club. Khaled Salem looks to have a future as a center back, whilst Ahmed Maher and Ismail Qassem are already dynamos for the club in the middle of the pitch.

Al-Am’ary seek Continental Redemption

An embarrassing admission: I picked Al-Am’ary to win the league this year. They were excellent in the WBPL’s first month before falling apart and firing Hisham Al-Zoabi midway through the season. With the likes of Ahmed Harbi, Ahmed Keshkesh, Ismail Amour, Ma’ly Kawre’, and a slew of other National and Olympic Team players within their ranks it’s hard to discern what went wrong.

They were a missed penalty away from claiming the Yasser Arafat Cup but crashed out of the Palestine Cup to Division 1 side Ahli Al-Khaleel. Their league campaign resulted in a miserable and ultimately meaningless mid-table finish.

But after beating FC Balkan of Turkmenistan 2-1 in the AFC President’s Cup redemption could come in the form of an epic continental adventure. A 1-0 reverse to hosts Istiklol means that the Greens will have to hope for Istiklol to beat or draw against Balkan on the final matchday to have any chance of advancing to the Final Six. 

Newbies


There will be no top-flight football in Tulkarem next year but neither team could argue against the verdict after a slew of uninspiring performances over the past two years. Four teams will be promoted in their place Ahli Al-Khaleel (joining fellow Hebronites Dhahrieh and Shabab), Islami Qalqilya, Hilal Areeha (Jericho), and Jenin. The best thing about this is that the lovely Jericho Stadium returns to its true home in the top flight: