Monday, October 6, 2014

23 Tickets to Australia: Palestine prepare for South Asian Tests


A Palestine squad featuring mostly WBPL players jetted off to India earlier this week to continue Asian Cup preparations. Leading the side for the first time will be interim manager and former National Team captain, Saeb Jendeya.

Palestine had originally scheduled a double-header against India (on the 6th and 9th) and Pakistan (on the 12th and 14th) but were forced by FIFA to amend the schedule. As a result, they will play India on the 6th and then face Pakistan on the 14th- perhaps sneaking in a non-official match between one of the two sides somewhere in between.

In another sign of the PFA's ineptitude the canceling of the second India friendly leaves India without an opponent for one of the match days. They will no doubt be furious as they turned down an opportunity to play Malaysia on October 9th. Whatever goodwill might have existed between the two federations is probably now in short supply.

Palestine last faced India in February 2012 in an encounter marked by a sensational Ashraf Nu'man hattrick which overshadowed Palestine's lackadaisical defensive approach in the first half.

Although Palestine did not concede a goal en route to Asian Cup qualification (over an eight game span) shocking defensive performances have reared their head from time to time. This was the case last month as Palestine struggled against Myanmar and Chinese Taipei.

A good performance is a must given that the side has more than a few hour preparation under its belt as well as the benefit of playing a month's worth of club football.

Full Squad + Analysis After the jump....



Goalkeepers: Ramzi Saleh, Toufic Ali, Rami Hammadeh

Defenders: Abdelatif Bahdari, Haitham Dheeb, Tamer Salah, Abed Jaber, Raed Fares, Ahmed Abdullah, Mus'ab Al-Battat, Ahmed Harbi.

Midfielders: Murad Ismail, Husam Abu Saleh, Khader Yousef, Hesham Salhe, Ahmed Meary, Houssam Wadi, Musa Abu Jazar, Mahmoud 'Al-Koori' Sheikhqasem, Mahmoud Abuwardeh, Abdelhamid Abuhabib

Forwards: Ashraf Nu'man, Adham Abu Rwais, Khaled Salem, Ahmed Maher

At first glance, it seems that the national team staff has taken the approach of segmenting the players. Palestine's foreign based stars will probably be involved in next month's friendly against Saudi Arabia. That aside, the big surprises here are the absence of some of the Asian Games participants who seemed near locks to receive a call-up. Those lucky to receive a call-up this time around will have to impress in these two games in order to be considered for Australia.

Core Players 

Ramzi Saleh, Abdelatif Bahdari, and Ashraf Nu'man.

Barring injury, the captain, vice captain, and top-scorer are on that plane to Australia. They were most likely included in this squad ahead of other players precisely because the coaching staff has identified them as the three players they will most likely build around.

Near Locks

The back-up goalkeepers and Abdelhamid Abuhabib, Khader Yousef, Murad Ismail, Husam Abu Saleh, Ahmed Maher. 

These four players have been in nearly every starting eleven put out by Jamal Mahmoud since he took the position. The status of Abuhabib and Khader Yousef is unquestioned while the latter two were probably on the same pedestal until they failed to show up for camp a couple of weeks ago. If anyone of those four were to miss out it would probably be because one of the bubble players is in the form of his life.

Ahmed Maher tightened his grip on a spot in Australia despite being underwhelming during the Challenge Cup. He put Chinese Taipei to the sword last month with four well taken goals after opening his international account against Myanmar three days earlier. His performances with the Olympic team in Incheon only boosted his credentials, aside from Ashraf Nu'man, he is probably the most in-form player.

As for the goalkeepers, Toufic Ali was the best WBPL goalkeeper last year and has been a back up for the national team in some form for the past three years. Rami Hammadeh has the hot hand right now and given what he did last month might very well be the #2 goalkeeper if he can bring that form with the senior team.

Probably going 

Haitham Dheeb, Abed Jaber, Raed Fares, Houssam Wadi, Musa Abujazar, Adham Abu Rwais 

Abed Jaber wasn't on anyone's radar 12-months ago but he'll probably back up Alexis Norambuena in Australia. He could even start should Alexis be deployed on the right. Raed Fares currently leads the pack in the race for starting right back but he will be pushed to the end by the others in the squad. Houssam Wadi is back in the WBPL which should facilitate easier call-ups to the national team; he and Abujazar could push for starting roles in Australia.

Haitham Dheeb makes this list mostly because Khaled Mahdi isn't here. The latter was an overage player at the Asian Games and perhaps didn't do enough to mask defensive weaknesses. Dheeb is faster than Mahdi and came close to scoring off great set piece plays during the Challenge Cup. Those elements give him the edge in this battle. In fact, his speed means that his position is more assured than Daniel Kabir Mustafá or Omar Jarun.

Adham Abu Rwais has a huge opportunity to really stake a claim this week- his form in the WBPL has been Nu'man-like. Unless he completely fluffs his lines this week he'll probably have a role to play in Australia as a late-game sub.

On the Bubble 

Khaled Salem, Ahmed Abdullah, Mahmoud Sheikhqasem, Hesham Salhe, Ahmed Harbi, Mus'ab Al-Battat. 

About half the names in this group will make the Asian Cup squad but I wouldn't expect any of them to start. Harbi has the most pedigree and experience of the group but his choice to play on the other side of the green line cost him a couple of years with the national team. His versatility helps him and means he gets to compete for a job against the rightbacks- instead of the centerbacks. Mus'ab Al-Battat- coming off a great Asian Games- will be his main competition. Ahmed Abdullah gave a good account of himself as a left back against Qatar in a 2013 friendly but has done very little since. The emergence of Abed Jaber might block his path unless he can prove otherwise during camp.

The midfielders- Sheikhqasem and Hesham Salhe- have always been on the fringes of the national team but will need to show something special to nick a spot from Abujazar and Wadi who are versatile enough to play in different positions.

Khaled Salem will have another chance to prove himself against weaker opposition- the last time he played for the national team he scored a sensational goal; unfortunately, that friendly against Malaysia was wiped from the FIFA record.

Just happy to be here

Tamer Salah, Mahmoud Abuwardeh, Ahmed Meary. Three Olympic team players who will have to do a lot to prove they belong. Salah wasn't particularly convincing during the tournament as the rearguard was repeatedly exposed- particularly in the final game. Abuwardeh- while very promising- is only 19. While Ahmed Meary is in a dog fight with six other players and will struggle to get playing time during these two games.

Dropped Out

Hilal Musa and Ismail Amour were part of the initial squad but are not in India. Hilal Musa has had to withdraw with a broken hand- while no information was given on Ismail Amour's status. Both players  stand a good chance of making the squad due to the dearth of attacking options.