Lebanon were looking for a ticket to the second round today and coming into this tournament after fantastic form in World Cup Qualifiers - they were the favored side on paper in the Levantine derby. After their 1-0 win against Oman, a win against Palestine would all but guarantee them the top spot in the group - not least after Oman beat Kuwait 2-0 in the day's earlier fixture.
Tuning in, I was hoping Lebanon would be complacent/cautious and get caught off-guard - and that Jamal Mahmoud would capitalize on that. I was not disappointed. I know Bassil will pick the game apart tactically in his diligent "rapid" reaction post, so I'll leave those details to him. But I have to comment on what was quite positively a masterclass of a performance. And I do not use that word lightly. After years of following this team, through modest ups and frequent downs, seeing what unfolded on the pitch made me wish all Palestinians, whereever they may be - football fans or not, were tuning in to see what kind of a team they have representing them.
Mohammed Eshbair boldly attacked every ball in the air and was cool and composed throughout. He made us forget that Ramzi had to leave the squad. A captain's performance.
Zatara was a machine. He was all over the place! He kept the pressure on the opposition from the very start and when he had the ball, he rarely lost it. It was his maneuvering on the left flank that set Alexis up to give that game winning pass to Abougharqoud. If only he scored on that open net in injury time, it would have been the icing on the cake.
Ashraf Noman brought his excellent club form with him tonight and was a menace to the Lebanese goal.
Eyad Abougharqoud - I'll be honest, I was not too enthusiastic about him before the match. I didn't think much of him as a "poacher", at least on the national level. I thought that well at least he does an excellent job at redirecting the ball towards other attacking players.
Then came his goal....A strikers finish! And that was after he got the wind knocked out of him in earlier contact with a Lebanese player. What a fighter.
Alexis - Man of the Match. I believe that his performance today was his "Kettlun moment" if youd allow me to coin a phrase. Palestinian fans are going to remember his name forever. Not only did he alleviate our left-back problem, but he provided that brilliant pass that cracked the code of the Lebanese defense. The fighting performance he - along with the other defenders - gave to defend the lead shows that he is a Fedae'i through and through.
Jamal Mahmoud - The man knows how to read an opponent and he knows how to play his cards. He clearly instructed the players to keep up the pressure throughout, especially in the midfield. His substitutions were spot on, replenishing the midfield and putting in Omar Jarun as the 5th defender when we needed him. I've always loved how he is mostly standing on the sideline screaming instructions - most players need that kind of support. And I do not know what he tells the team in the locker room, but I'd sure love to witness. In Jamal we trust!
The team as a whole put in a solid performance keeping Lebanon's dangerous midfielders/strikers at bay.
The 90 minutes today reminded me of everything great about Palestinian football: (a) The technical renaissance and (b) that fighting spirit - which we used to rely on when facing the likes of Iraq and such in 2004...we still got it.
I'll end my gushing post with this epic favorite song of mine - which maybe fits the context well.