Monday, January 26, 2015

Asian Cup Assessment: The Future (Part III)

Abdallah Jaber: A future star and Palestine's player of the tournament. 
This entry is the third part of a three section entry assessing Palestine's performance at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. In this section we will look at how Palestine should go forward after a subpar showing at the 2015 Asian Cup.

Eight days. That's how long Palestine's foray into continental football at the highest level lasted. For those of us lucky to be there it was a magical time and one we will not soon forget. Palestine was one of the best supported teams at this tournament despite the fact that only 9,000 Palestinians call Australia home. 

The level of support was overwhelming and it came to a surprise to many of the players. One player told me "The support here is amazing, I've played in so many Arab countries and this beats anything I have ever experienced in terms of support. The people here, they just want to support us to be close to Palestine- they want nothing else, no [ulterior motives]."



Perhaps the legacy of this tournament will be the creation of a more rabid supporter's culture. It's certainly true that many of the people in the stands in Australia did not have the sort of intimate knowledge of the team and players as the readers of this blog do. Going forward, I hope the kind of support on show by Palestinian-Australians gets mimicked in countries were Palestinians live in larger numbers. If we can get 11,000 people to come out and support Palestine in Melbourne maybe we can get similar numbers in Kuwait City, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Amman. Let's hope that the team becomes a bigger part of our national consciousness in the future. 

On the pitch, certain things are changing as we speak. Ahmad El Hassan has been relieved of his duties and will return to his post as Technical Director of the PFA. During the PFA press conference,  PFA President Jibril Rajoub stressed the importance of not crucifying the players for their poor performance. 

Unfortunately, Jibril Rajoub's press conference was filled with platitudes about participating and delivering a political message. That's all well and good but I do not think it is in line with the what the players were focussed on. He spoke of publishing a book that would document the team's historic accomplishment in qualifying for the tournament and promised yet another ceremony for the team (is that really necessary?). 

In my opinion, Palestinian players need no reminding for whom or what they're playing for; there is absolutely no need to keep banging on about it. When I spoke with Ramzi Saleh after the Japan game he wasn't happy, he was disappointed. He thought the team could have done better; and of course he was right. Our team cannot be happy to just make up the numbers- they are professionals and born competitors. 

Jibril Rajoub spoke of an independent investigatory committee to diagnose what led to the national team's failure at the Asian Cup. I don't think there is a need for such a committee as it is quite clear what happened: An internal war in the PFA chased out the most successful manager in National Team history. Instead of finding a suitable replacement, the PFA appointed an administrator who happened to have the requisite badges. That administrator then proceeded to exclude some of Palestine's best players from the final squad. 

I find it perplexing to listen to Jibril Rajoub talk about how he wants to create a generation of 18-22 year olds capable of representing the national team and qualifying for Qatar 2022. The intent is nice but there are more pressing issues like the summer qualifiers for Russia 2018 and the Asian Cup in 2019. I know Palestine may never become Japan but is superseding Jordan too much to ask? 

The fact of the matter is, Palestine's senior team has improved but the grassroots are still rotten. Women's Football cannot compete with Jordan (again, not exactly a superpower or a bastion for women in sport) and our youth teams still struggle, routinely suffering big losses. 

I think claims of wanting to improve the status quo are quite dubious. Mostly because we have not seen improvement in the past 17 years. I take all promises with a grain of salt and it is not a great sign that the PFA Press Conference concluded without any mention of a new coach or plans for the March friendlies and the summer qualifiers. 

Those friendlies in March could be crucial for our qualification hopes going forward. One site, gives us about a 20% chance of ending up in Pot 2 we need to do everything in our power to end up there and secure a favorable draw. With the ability of hosting games now in play the aim for this team should be to finish second in its qualifying group and clinch a place in the final round (12 teams) of Asian World Cup qualifying. Doing so would also guarantee a place at the 2019 Asian Cup. 

How can we do that without a coach? There are some important decisions to be made regarding a lot of our players. Will Ramzi Saleh remain Palestine's undisputed #1? What about the international futures of Raed Fares, Husam Abu Saleh, and Murad Ismail? How do we incorporate capable players from the Olympic Team into the senior squad? 

As always there seems to be more questions surrounding the national team than answers.