Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Palestine's Depth Chart (Goalkeepers & Defenders)

Palestine's Starting XI  (vs. Malaysia June 16th, 2015)
Heading into 2017, what does Palestine's core look like? AND how close are we to fielding a team that can not only qualify for UAE 2019 but do some serious damage?

The answers to these questions aren't clearer after the last set of friendlies. While it was nice to see two friendlies booked for the same window; certain circles will be lamenting the lack of rotation.

Fans have their opinions and so do we but in this article we'll look at how the staff rates the players in the pool.

Below is the definitive ranking for defensive players (Goalkeeper, backline):




GOALKEEPER 
Is now the time for a goalkeeper switch?

1. Toufic Ali 
26 Years Old, 28 Caps.
2. Rami Hamadi 
25 Years Old, 0 Caps.
Others: Ghanem Mahajneh, Azmi Shweiki

Like it or not, Toufic Ali is Palestine's number one. The Shabab Al-Khaleel man has built up years of experience as a back up with the national team and it will probably take a major blunder in a national team shirt to cause a change.

Rami Hamadi had a great performance in his first senior national team game against Morocco B has fans clamoring for him to be the starter. He has planted the seed of doubt but will need more opportunities (vis-a-vis OFFICIAL matches) to really make his case. That said, the more success he has with Thaqafi the more difficult it becomes to ignore his claim for the starting position. At the time of writing, Hamadi has five clean sheets and has only conceded twice in seven games.

The two other keepers most commonly included in national team squads are Mahajneh and Shweiki but it would take a minor miracle to see either start for the national team.

CENTREBACK
Dheeb: Class is in session

1. Abdelatif Bahdari 
32 Years Old, 41 Caps
2. Haitham Dheeb
30 Years Old, 23 Caps
3. Alaa Abu Saleh 
29 Years Old, 3 Caps
4. Tamer Salah 
30 Years Old, 12 Caps
5. Mohammed Abu Khamis 
25 Years Old, 1 Cap

If there was any doubt that the Bahdari was going to lose his place his 180 minutes against Lebanon and Morocco B put those doubts to rest.

Haitham Dheeb may have not played a part in the last three games but Dheeb is the perfect foil to Bahdari- this partnership was formed in 2014 during the Challenge Cup and Palestine has looked impenetrable anytime these two have been on the pitch. The Majd Al-Krum native has been a mountainous presence for Palestine and in his last 10 competitive appearances for Palestine he notched nine starts, nine clean sheets, and a 5-4-1 record. The only goals conceded on his watch came in the 2-0 loss to UAE in 2018 World Cup qualifying.

Alaa Abu Saleh is a new face in the group but has done enough to establish himself as the go-to option when either captain is unavailable. His performances partnering Dheeb, Bahdari, and Salah over the last month have been encouraging. His versatility (can be deployed as a right back) makes him a shoo-in for any squad.

Tamer Salah has been a part of the national set up since late 2014. While his lack of speed cannot be denied he isn't as bad as some have made him out to be and is perhaps unfairly singled out for the abysmal performances at the 2015 Asian Cup. That said, the fact that he's fourth on the depth chart speaks volumes to the dearth of options available.

Mohammed Abu Khamis got his first cap in an emergency situation when Tamer Salah limped off injured vs. Malaysia. He's the shortest player of the five CBs and also the youngest. Has struggled (perhaps for those reasons?) to get playing time in friendlies. Has extensive AFC Cup experience having started six games for Taraji Wadi Al-Nes in the 2015 edition.

LEFT BACK

Jaber: Automatic Starter 

1. Abdallah Jaber 
23 Years Old, 25 Caps
2. Fadi Salbees 
23 Years Old, 2 Caps

There are a couple of guarantees in life. Death, Taxes, and Abdallah Jaber at LB. Has started all 25 of his caps, has never collected a yellow card, and was substituted off (with only minutes to go) for the first time in his national team career against Tajikistan in September.

Fadi Salbees is known to fans for his attacking flair but he is the only other player in the pool to have started a game at the position (vs. Lebanon August 2015).

RIGHT BACK

Right back at you: Alexis (R) and Jaka

1. Alexis Norambuena 
32 Years Old, 12 Caps
2. Jaka Ihbeisheh 
30 Years Old, 11 Caps
3. Mohammed Saleh
23 Years Old, 2 Caps
4. Mus'ab Al-Battat 
22 Year Old, 12 Caps
5. Muamen Agbaria
23 Years Old, 2 Caps

When push comes to shove. You are going to want a veteran presence in the back and that is why Alexis Norambuena and Jaka Ihbeisheh's names are top of the list. The younger options- Saleh and Al-Battat are prone to too many defensive lapses. Alexis along with Bahdari is the oldest player in the pool but he is a known quantity that hasn't committed any errors whilst playing for the national team. He might be part of a discombobulated Shabab Al-Khaleel team but his track record will most likely earn him a reprieve.

Jaka Ihbeisheh is more of an attacking player and he will certainly merit consideration further up the pitch but his discipline makes him a viable option as a right back.

CONCLUSION 

Palestine's team is young but the youth is concentrated further up the pitch. In the back, it's all about experience. Should Palestine meet the target of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup only one projected outfield starter (Abdallah Jaber) would be under 30. Two years ahead of the finals, there hasn't been a drop off in form amongst the veteran players and for Palestine to be successful that will need to continue.

That said, there needs to be a onus on grooming the next generation that will compete for 2022 World Cup qualification- especially if the turnaround between the Asian Cup Finals and qualifying remains a mere five months.

In the short term, there is a lack of depth in both full back positions. If Abdallah Jaber goes down the next man up will most likely be playing out of position. The same goes for the right back position. The situation is mitigated by the fact that Palestine possess a Swiss Army Knife type player in Jaka Ihbeisheh but injury or suspension could expose the cracks in what has been a solid unit over the past 18 months.

Coming Soon: 
Palestine's Depth Chart (Midfielders & Forwards)