Friday, December 25, 2009

Abdel-Latif Bahdari

I happened to tune in today to the Jordan league derby between Wehdat and Faisaly. Bahdari was excellent in defence. We said it here before he even went pro, this player is definitely going to play a big part in the national team's future.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jordan Premier League - Attal, Lafi and Bahdari score

Last weeks JPL matches saw three Palestine internationals get on the scoresheets. Fahd Attal for Jazira, Fadi Lafi for Shabab alOrdon and defender Abdel-Latif Bahdari for Wehdat.
Palestine star Ahmad Keshkesh, our fourth player in the league, is recovering from injury and back in training with Wehdat.

Fahd Attal


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Confirmed: Palestine to play Dynamo Moscow in Jericho

The PFA has confirmed a friendly match between the Men's National Team and Dynamo Moscow. The match will be held in Jericho on January 23rd, 2010 and will be the second time the team faces a Russian Premier League side (they played Terek Grozny to a 2-2 draw in the Faisal Al-Husseini stadium in June). Dynamo Moscow is the oldest Russian club and has never been relegated from the Russian top flight they finished 9th out of 16th this past season. The team is currently home to Russian international Aleksandr Kerzakhov and Denis Kolodin as well as ex-international and Real Sociedad legend Dimitri Khokhlov.

The PFA has also been engaged in talks with India about a prospective friendly in New Dehli sometime next month.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mark Your Calendars: World Cup Qualifying starts October 8, 2010

Interesting news from Kuala Lumpur as the AFC has decided to start World Cup Qualifying ridiculously early. Hard to say what the Asian Football Confederation is thinking, 2006 qualifying began in January 2004 and 2010 qualifying kicked off in October 2007. The format of the qualifiers is yet to be confirmed which is something most fans want sorted out. 2010 qualifying was a sham and a disgrace. No other confederation had the gaul to go out and favor a select group of teams over 40 others. Even CONCACAF makes powerhouses participate in the early rounds of qualifying and the gap between Mexico and Belize or the United States and the Bahamas (both teams lost 9-0 on aggregate) is far greater than the gap between the Maldives and South Korea for example. Although, the AFC had originally announced that the 2014 qualifying format would be identical to the 2010 format, there has been a change of heart perhaps because an allocation of 4.5 spots won't be guaranteed if Asian teams slip up in South Africa.

Traditionally, AFC qualifying was split up into three rounds. Much like CONCACAF the weakest teams played preliminary home and away matches in order to whittle the field to 32 teams. Then teams were divided up into 8 groups of four teams. The winner progressed to the third and final round composed of two groups of 10 teams. The top two advanced directly while third placed teams played each other for the right to play in an inter-confederation play-off.

Putting AFC qualifying for the 2010 tournament is much more difficult. The AFC disregarded World Cup 2010 Regulations:

"Any seeding based on team performance for each continental preliminary competition will be based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking" (article 17 paragraph 1)

They instead ranked the five Asian teams present at the 2006 World Cup and gave them byes to the third round... That's right the third round. A series of home-and-away playoffs between teams in pot A and teams in pot B were played. Pot A consisted of teams ranked 6th to 24th (Palestine was in this pot, ranked 18th), pot B had the remaining teams (25-43). The winners of these match-ups would progress to the second or third round. So 8 of the 19 winners were forced to play another two-legged playoff with the winners of those joining the rest of the merry bunch in the third round were a normal round robin-6 match days-5 groups of four-with two winners progressing format awaited them. The fourth round was identical to the traditional final round of AFC qualifying.

If you can't make any sense of what I just wrote because it's too damn complicated check out Wikipedia's article for some nice visuals. Here are my problems with this format:

I. Competition is Diluted: I think over the past 10 year it's safe to say that the middle tier of Asian Football has improved drastically. Look at the progress Syria and Korea DPR have made in qualifying for major tournaments (Qatar 2011 and South Africa 2010). By eliminating teams en masse with two-legged playoffs you are robbing teams from the opportunity to play competitive games and improve themselves. UEFA no longer has minnows amongst its ranks with the possible exception of San Marino and Andorra. All teams are now capable of making bigger teams work for the result. This is because these tiny teams were given the opportunity to play a 10 or 12 game World Cup campaign and learn from negative experiences.

II. FIFA Rankings are Arbitrary: If you want to determine the weakest teams in Asia... sure FIFA's Rankings can help you determine the obvious Timor Leste and Guam are rock bottom... duh. But in the middle you're comparing teams that don't play each other and don't play a lot of friendlies. Plus if say Syria had qualified for the tournament (a realistic assumption given that they were a 'faulty' power generator away) they would have played 18-22 games 4-8 games more than South Korea, Japan, and Australia.
So we await the AFC's decision on a format with anticipation, but I think we will be seeing Al-Fursan in a competitive match in exactly 10 months time. Our ranking is at an abysmal 39/46, but the football we displayed against the UAE (ranked 16th in Asia and 64 places ahead of us in FIFA) shows that we can knock off any team in the lower tier as long as external factors don't get in the way. Bezzaz seems to be a very capable and serious manager which is what this team needs, so I don't envision any surprises against the likes of Nepal, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. My gut feeling says that the bottom 12 teams will play a two-legged playoff which will cut the number of teams participating to 40. I doubt that the playing field could be more expansive since MD 2 is on the 12th of October. But until then... we'll be part of a select group of teams playing World Cup matches in 2010.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Football (Mandate) Palestine: 1928-1948

According to the Palestine Football Association, Palestine was the first Asian Arab team to participate in international competition. They are of course referring to the 1934 and 1938 World Cup qualifiers.

In 1928 the Palestine Football Association was established in British Mandate Palestine. To figure out who this organization really represented, one could take a look at the squad lists that participated in the Greece and Egypt qualifiers and notice that there is not a single Arab name. The truth about the mandate era Palestine Football Association's inception is that it was part of a larger Zionist attempt to gain international legitimacy for Jews in Mandate Palestine and consequently, Arabs were deliberately left out of the teams fielded. And the reason Egypt played a Zionist team was because they were under a British mandate as well. For further reading on this: a great article by Issam Khalidi.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian FAs lay claim to the pre-1948 matches and list their establishment dates at 1928. So which of the modern associations is the rightful successor of the mandate era association?
FIFA took its usual neutral stance on the issue. It has recognized both the Israeli and Palestinian FAs as being established in 1928 and according to the archive, both teams played their first matches in 1948 and 1998 respectively (it used to be that the Mandate games were in the archives of both teams).

To me it doesn't feel right for us to recognize the mandate FA as our own simply because that association was Zionist in essence. Then again, allowing the Israeli FA to have exclusive claim over it fulfills their political goals (technically the team was supposed to represent BOTH Arabs and Jews and not be exclusionist). Thats why I think the FIFA position is the best to take.

We openly accept the mandate team as our own so as to highlight how established football is in Palestine and in light of the above facts, you can legitimately ask whether we are deluding ourselves. My answer to that is no. While we did not have an Arab international team per se, football has a long history among Arabs in Palestine that predates 1928. The established clubs in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Gaza and elsewhere prove this.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thoughts on Olympic Team's Triumph

It's not often we get to celebrate victories of the non-moral variety here at Football Palestine. Indeed, the last time the senior team recorded a win was in 2006 during the Challenge Cup, triumphing 4-0 over Cambodia. June 2006 saw us surge up the FIFA rankings to 115 and the team was playing with a swagger after respectable showings in difficult World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying groups. Of course, 2006 also represents the international sanctions levied on Palestine after Hamas's triumph in a completely transparent and democratic election which eventually led to a failed unity government, chaos in Gaza (Palestine's football factory), and the election of the thuggish Jibril Rajoub as FA chairman.

But all that aside, what the Olympic Team has managed to do is very impressive. A lot of the credit goes to Moussa Bezzaz who insisted on coaching the squad, and we might have to apologize for affectionately refering to him as "Tits Man" if he keeps these results up. Jordan, it should be noted are no slouches. Then again, neither are we but in a football world dominated by the glitz and glamour of European Leagues it's easy to lose track of power rankings within Asia. Jordan's senior team recently defeated Iran and could be well on their way to a second Asian Cup berth. Their Olympic team is made up of many of the same players who played in the U-20 World Cup in Canada two years ago.

Unfortunately, there is virtually nothing out there in terms of multimedia to show you, but here is a detailed match report in Arabic. To sum it up for those of you who can't read the report Mohammed Khweis scored the opening goal in the 22nd minute to put Palestine up 1-0. Jordan responded in the second half with an equalizer from the penalty spot after a Palestinian player handled the ball in the box before Ashraf Nu'man grabbed a winner with a thunderous free-kick that deflected into the back of the net off a defender in the 61st minute. The goalkeeper Omar Abu Raweis was equally impressive dealing with early onslaughts by the Jordanians at the beginning of each half.

This was a deserved win by all accounts, the Jordanians are not happy about losing this especially with the Asian Games right around the corner. For us, it represents an important building block, youth teams are mostly about developing players who can step into the senior team. But for Al-Fursan it is important that the kids that come through the system have a cavalier attitude that doesn't hope for a win but EXPECTS to win every time they step on to the pitch. Going forward, we have a year off to prepare for three major tournaments: World Cup 2014 (Qualifying begins October 2011), London 2012 (Qualifying begins early 2011), Challenge Cup 2012 (Qualifiers beginning most likely in early 2011). So there needs to be a slew of friendlies against real national teams and we also have to hope that our FA takes a hands off approach and avoids hair-brained schemes like turning down an opportunity to play Asian Cup Qualifiers.