Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Rant

You knew it was coming. No matter how hard Aboud and I try and keep things professional on this blog, the fan in us makes a yearly appearance to furiously type out a 3000 word diatribe about the state of affairs. This is one of those times, World Cup Qualifying for us is over and it seems like Moussa Bezaz will not have his contract renewed. So there really hasn't been a better time to write one of these.

Assessing the campaign:

Palestine played four games, they were poor in two of them and excellent in the other two. So the 1-2-1 record seems rather appropriate. The positives we can take from this campaign are the positive goal difference and the fact that we'll be ranked 21st (out of 43-45 teams) if the AFC chooses to retain the same qualifying format. This is important because it means we would be more likely to face a regional minnow instead of a regional power.

Player Ratings:

I previously promised not to give these out for the second leg of the Thailand game because of the spirit displayed by the team. I will instead speak in generalities.

Mohammed Shbair (GK)- I don't want to say anything bad about him. I'd rather focus on the solid game he had in the first leg where he saved a last minute penalty which would have all but condemned us. The fact of the matter is he needs to position himself better, Ramzi Saleh is always in a position to make a save because he adjusts his body while the ball is in play. Shbair got caught flatfooted on both goals.

Ahmed Harbi- Very adept at providing width but defensively he is a liability. If there was a way to combine Harbi and Abusidu you would have the perfect right back. Not surprised to see Harbi involved in conceding both goals.

Jarun/Bahdari- Excellent. Got better with each game they played together, a shame they've only been partnered together four times (vs. Tanzania, vs. Afghanistan, and twice vs. Thailand).

Khaled Mahdi- I was expecting the worst but to be honest with you but over two legs Mahdi was solid. Reminds me of Carlos Bocanegra of the United States, in that he can play LB but he's better playing in the middle.

Ismail Amour- Tireless worker but what I didn't like was how easily he went to ground a couple of times. I think Amour saw the Thai players going down and decided to go tit for tat. Bad call.

Khader Yousef- Where was this guy in the first leg? Kept the ball a lot better, got forward played good passes. Showed why he is an ever present starter in Bezaz's squad.

Houssam Wadi- A machine, can do the dirty work and has shown that he isn't a slouch when it comes to going forward.

Ashraf Nu'man- Did alright. Was going head-to-head with the Thai captain so the subdued performance was to be expected.

Fahed Attal- Great pass to set up Alyan for the first goal. Somehow missed a tap-in 50 seconds into the second half that could have ended a five-year duck.

Murad Alyan- How does he do it? I still can't figure out how he beat three defenders and the keeper on the second goal. Where did the ball go? This guy has a job outside of football? 7 goals 7 games... He may be 34 in December but I wouldn't bet against him surpassing Al-Kord's 15.

Subs- Eyad Abugharqud on the left? Doesn't suit him. Suleiman Obeid on the right? Better than him in the middle. Ali El-Khatib- One to watch for but still raw.

Bezaz- Should he stay?

According to this article Rajoub has dismissed the coaching staffs of the National, Olympic, and Women's teams.

I will say this for Bezaz he will (potentially) leave the national team in a better state than he found it. Getting past the first stage of World Cup Qualifying and the Challenge Cup is something the team failed to do in 2007 and 2009, respectively. On the other hand, Bezaz has had resources that were previously unavailable: Steady league play, ability to organize friendlies, and a $6.5 million budget.

Tactically, Bezaz only settled on a team and a shape in March during the Challenge Cup qualifiers. It was one that could be rather defensive at times and one that Bezaz was hesitant to stray away from even against weaker opponents.

As far as squad selection is concerned Bezaz made two decisions that kept him from being condemned to the Ezzat Hamzeh Hall of Shame. Calling up Omar Jarun in February was a no-brainer but why he didn't call up other long lost national team players (Edgardo Abdala, Roberto Kettlun, Alexis Norambuena) is puzzling. Murad Alyan's debut in the Challenge Cup proved to Bezaz that he was wrong to ignore him for so long.

Potential Replacements?

So far the only name that has been floated around is former Zamalek manager Hossam Hasan. Hasan doesn't have a lot of experience but he helped rejuvenate the Cairo giants in his one and a half season in charge. His first season saw him take Zamalek from 13th to 2nd he was unlucky not to win a title this year as league action was stopped whilst Zamalek was coasting in first place. This move would make sense, Palestine would get a more established coach and Hossam Hasan could rebuild a reputation in tatters after his outspoken support of Hosni Mubarak.

The other name that has been widely mentioned (by the fans, at least) is Olympic Team Manager Mokhtar "The Dinosaur" Al-Talili. Under Al-Talili, the Olympic team came painstakingly close to advancing to the final 12 of Olympic Qualifying all the while playing organized, tactically aware football. What was more impressive was the team's evolution with every passing match. With Khaled Salem, Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb, Ali El-Khatib, Hicham Ali, and many more primed to make the jump to the senior team its no surprise that many fans are clamoring for this move.

Change the home stadium?

Faisal Al-Husseini has been the team's home stadium since its inauguration in 2008. Three official matches have been played here the 1-1 friendly draw vs. Jordan, the 1-1 WCQ draw vs. Afghanistan, and the 2-2 WCQ draw vs. Thailand. The good news is we're undefeated on home soil! The bad news is we're also winless. These games have seen Palestine start well and in each game Palestine has scored in the first 10 minutes. Three games might be to small a sample to claim a pattern but some fans have had enough especially after seeing the Olympic Team lose here on penalties to Thailand and throw away a 2-0 aggregate lead to Bahrain.

If a change is made there are two likely replacement candidates Jericho International Stadium and Dora International Stadium in Hebron. Dora can hold up to 20,000 and is home to the most rabid and organized supporters group in the WBPL.

Random Thought

While watching the first leg of the Thailand World Cup qualifier, I reached the conclusion that the most badass player on the national team is Majed Abusidu. There is no way I would want to get into a fight with this guy. Sure, Jarun and Bahdari are massive but they're gentle giants. Majed Abusidu has a death stare that scares the sh!t out of me.

Friday, July 29, 2011

From Palestine: A Day at the Faisal Husseini

Let me start off by saying the national team did its name proud on Thursday. Of course we weren't happy with the result..far from it. But they went for the win with a fighting spirit we haven't seen in a good while. There is discussion to be had about the team's future..but we'll talk about that later.

I only watched the team once before, and it wasn't in Palestine. It was a 'home' game in a very dull stadium in East Amman, that sucked. So this Palestine match was definitely going to surpass my previous experience.

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

I had plenty of time to soak in Ramallah in the days before the match. It is a wonderful blend of Palestinian culture and modern city-life with a vibrant diverse population. On the morning of match day, I grabbed some breakfast at Manara square and then went to take a 'service' taxi to Al Ram.
Right when you leave Ramallah, you are immediately greeted by the separation wall. The graffiti makes for some colourful viewing while your mini-bus rolls through the streets.

The guy next to me, a Ram resident, told me where I needed to get off to get to the stadium. After a short walk, the Faisal Husseini was in sight.

I arrived rather early, 4 hours before kickoff, and barely any fans had come yet. Twitter proved to be a powerful social tool as I recognized a person from our communications on the site(hey John and Patrick!). We sat in the shade when a large group of internationals arrived. After mingling, we headed for the gates and entered the stadium. Getting in this early meant I bypassed any ticketing, not that I didnt have 5 shekels to spare.

I met Grant Wahl a couple of nights before matchday. He covered the match for Sports Illustrated with a special focus on Omar Jarun (he discusses our meeting in this article). While Grant and I talked over our drinks that night, he mentioned that he was going with a photographer to visit Murad Alyan at his day-job the next morning. He said he has luck with these kinds of things, noting that it would make for a good story if Dado ended up scoring in the match. You sure do Grant, you sure do.

There was a pleasant diversity in the stands. Jon, my twitter friend, commented how he was surprised to see so many girls coming on their own as compared to the UK where they are usually dragged to matches by their boyfriends/husbands. And talking to people around me, I found they'd come from pretty much everywhere. And the age range was huge as well..

Words of wisdom to the youngsters.

As the players warmed up, you could tell they were focused, and at the same time, excited.

Finally, I'll leave you with a little clip of the footage I captured. As fans were leaving the stadium in disappointment, Murad Alyan scores his second goal to bring a glimmer of hope...(watch in HD!)

I'll have more footage from the match up in the coming week.

FP at the Faisal Husseini

Hard at work! Though I had the fun. You have to thank Bassil at home for the excellent play-by-play.

I'll post more videos and pics tomorrow when I have better internetz. What a week.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 2 : 2 Thailand (2nd Leg WCQ)

Starting XI (4-4-1-1):

Substitutions: Ali El-Khatib for Fahed Attal (53') / Eyad Abugharqud for Ashraf Nu'man (65') / Suleiman Obeid for Ismail Amour (75')

Goals: Murad Alyan (6, 90)
Cards: Alyan (15'), Amour (45') Harbi (sent off 90+3)

Recap: Can this game be summed up in a couple of paragraphs? Probably not, but I'll do my best. Palestine came out of the gate guns blazing, Alyan sent a ball across the face of goal that Attal nearly tapped in to an open net. Minutes later Alyan would make no mistake slotting home from just inside the box. With the crowd in full voice Palestine went forward looking for a second. Palestine were exposed on the right-flank were the talented, but defensively suspect, Harbi was caught out of position. On the first occasion Bahdari managed to put out the fire, on the second occasion Teerasil Dangda found an open Thongalo who put the ball over the head of Mohammed Shbair.

Palestine's second half was a composed performance but despite carving out several chances they couldn't find a goal until the final minute of regulation. Al-Fursan were perhaps victim of their coach's trepidation who didn't change the formation or instructions at halftime. Bezaz introduced Abugharqud- a forward- midway through the second half but insisted on playing him on the wing. Thailand's equalizer came from a free kick after Harbi hacked down a Thai player who was through on goal. A harsh ending to what was a very spirited performance.

What I liked: I am not going to criticize a single player that was out there today. They all gave their all despite not being able to secure progression to the third round. Murad Alyan deserves extra credit for his incredible record of 7 goals in 7 games all of which have been come in competitive matches. I don't know what to make of the atmosphere or the crowd (Al-Jazeera and PSC didn't have boom mics picking up the audio). I'll let Aboud expand on that in later posts.

What I liked (part II): Check out Grant Wahl's article, there will be another column covering Omar Jarun in an upcoming issue of SI.

What I didn't like: After Thailand equalized for a second time some fans (I counted two or three bottles) threw water bottles onto the pitch. The 12,000 fans in the stadium were classy and positive but it only takes 2-3 boneheads to tarnish our image.

Moussa Bezaz's future: His contract is up at the end of the month (according to reports he signed a two-year deal when he took the job in July 2009). Bezaz hasn't been horrible he deserves credit for stabilizing a ship that was rapidly sinking, he broke a 59 month losing streak and qualified the team for the 2012 Challenge Cup Finals. His cautious style and perceived favoritism however has won him many critics. The fact that Bezaz hasn't really imposed his style and tactics (does he even have tactics?) despite having a stable league and a bigger budget than his predecessors is a tough pill for the fans to swallow. Most fans had set an ultimatum for the Frenchman: 3rd Round or Bust. He has failed and now the ball is in the FA's court. (Bezaz's record in competitive matches: 3-2-3 Overall: 3-6-4)

What's Next: The AFC will announce the host of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup tomorrow. Palestine is bidding to host the March tournament but faces competition in the form of Nepal and Maldives. On the pitch, Palestine has a home friendly against Tanzania on August 10th.

Follow us on Twitter

For live updates - I will be reporting from the stadium while Bassil provides the play-by-play.

Yalla Falasteen

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Preview: Palestine vs. Thailand (2nd Leg, WCQ)

Vociferous support from the crowd will be needed if Palestine are to overcome Thailand.

What: 2nd Round World Cup Qualifier (Return Leg)
When: July 28th 2011
Where: Fasial Al-Husseini International Stadium, Al-Ram, Palestine
Kickoff: 1800 Local, 1500 GMT

Streams: Link1

1st Leg (THA 1 : 0 PLE)- Palestine were clearly second best in Buriram over the weekend but did just enough to frustrate Thailand into settling for an advantage by the slimmest of margins. Palestine sat deep and were overwhelmed in the first half with only a single corner and 1 shot on goal to show for their efforts. Al-Fursan improved in the second half with the introduction of Houssam Wadi and Ali El-Khatib but with Alyan playing as a lone striker failed to put any real pressure on the Thai defence. Thailand won a penalty in the final seconds of the game but saw it sensationally saved by Mohammed Shbair.

Israeli Interference: Israel has refused three members of the National Team contingent entry into the West Bank. Majed Abusidu (Yarmouk/KUW), Mohammed Samara (Arab Contractors/EGY), and coach Hassan Dabdoub have all been stranded in Amman. According to multiple sources in the Palestinian media, Abusidu has gone back to his club whilst Mohammed Samara will wait in Amman in hope that his situation can be resolved.

Referee controversy: South Korean referee Lee Min Hu was met with the ire of many Palestinian players who thought he was too generous with his yellow cards. He didn't do himself any favors when he didn't even caution a Thai player for hacking Houssam Wadi from behind. This time around some in the Thai media are concerned with the appointment of Salah Al-Abasi for the return leg. The controversy stems from Qatar's Banjar Al-Dosari's decisions during the UAE-India qualifier. Some fans are now demanding that Arab referees not officiate matches involving other Arab nations.

Lineup changes: Ahmed Harbi, Khaled Slaem, and (possibly) Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb will be available for this match. With the forced absence of Abusidu it looks like Harbi is set to take his place at Right Back. The bigger question is what Bezaz will do in the middle of the pitch- Wadi might not be healthy enough to take part (thanks to that tackle), Ismail was ineffectual in his 45 minutes and Samara is still in Amman. Khader Yousef- a perennial Bezaz favorite- will most likely start the question is who will start alongside him and how adventurous Bezaz will be as he seeks to overturn a 1-0 deficit.

Potential Starting XI:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Against Odds

Relative to us, Thailand is by all means a giant. With a population many times our own, an established professional league and a master tactician pulling the strings, oh, and no occupation, you can see why the bookies have the odds in their favor. They all but dominated us on Saturday and you have to admit we were lucky to escape only one goal down. Furthermore, news is coming out that two starters will be missing from the squad. All these factors contribute to the pessimistic outlook some have for Thursday and its easy to despair if one wants to.


We have to remember who we are. Ever since re-affiliation, Palestine has played the underdog. Except for a few instances, we were never the favorites. So what makes this time any different? Saturdays game could have been much worse. We would never have recovered going down 2-0 and if it wasn't for that little bit of luck and the fighting spirit that saw Eshbair save the penalty amid thousands of jeering fans, we wouldn't be talking about the possibility of qualifying. Palestine can make Thailand pay for the mistake of not finishing it in the first leg.

We've thrived against the odds before, thats what makes Thursday so unpredictable. The players commented that the Thai crowd stunned them. I hope the Palestinian crowd will fire them up.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Get to know Hicham Ali

Friend of the blog Amin Ziad, who lives in Sweden, got in touch with Olympic team midfielder Hicham Ali on behalf of Football Palestine. Hicham was a key figure in the Olympic team's London 2012 campaign. His presence in the midfield along with Abdulhamid Abuhabeeb and Ali El Khatib resulted in flowing attacking football, something we are not used to from our national sides. Here is Amin's Q&A (translated from Swedish) with the midfielder who plays in the Swedish Division 1:

FP: Did you ever consider playing international football for Palestine or Sweden before being called up for the Palestinian olympic team?

Hicham Ali: Of course. I've always wanted to play for a national team and especially for my own country.... So when the FA contacted me I said yes with an open heart.

FP: Many fans were suprised when they saw you starting on the bench in the first leg of the Olympic qualifier playoff vs Bahrain and rumor was that you had a disagreement with coach Mokhtar Al-Talili, is there any truth to that?

H.A: You can't call it a disagreement. The coach decides and does whats best for the team, and obviously there was someone better then me.

FP: How do you compare the training you underwent in Palestine to that in Sweden?

H.A: There is a big difference. European football is more tactical.

FP: Which player(s) did you mostly hang out with in between sessions?

H.A: Mustafa Abu Kweik, Nadeem Barghouti, Amr Abu Rwaies and Ahmed Salameh. They are all big players with big hearts, they always supported me.

FP: Has the senior team ever contacted you?

H.A: No.

FP: Do you see yourself continuing representing Palestine?

H.A: Yes of course. Palestine forever.

FP: What is your club situation?

H.A: It's good. I have been playing with Rosengård (DIV 1) this season but I have a contract with Malmö FF that runs out in December. But it looks good so i'm hoping for to re-sign with them.

FP: Have you gotten any offers from Swedish clubs?

H.A: Yes, I've gotten offers from a couple clubs, but thats not anything I want to discuss. My goal is to re-sign for MFF.

FP: Have you gotten offers from clubs abroad?

H.A: Yes, a couple of Palestinian clubs and others have contacted me. But it's not anything I want to go deeper into.

FP: What is your dream club?

H.A: You can always dream. My favorite club is Barcelona so you can say that that is what I aspire for.

FP: Lastly, would you like to say a word to Palestinian football fans?

H.A: I just wanna thank everyone that supported us in the games. We hoped to advance past Bahrain so we could have experienced another dream match with the fans. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way, so the only thing we can do now is to hope that the senior team advances to the WC.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Thailand 1 : 0 Palestine (1st Leg, WCQ)

Bahdari sacrificed his body but was unable to stop Thailand from taking a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute
Starting XI (4-5-1):

Subs: Houssam Wadi 46' for Murad Ismail / Ali El-Khatib 55' for Mohammed Samara / Ashraf Nu'man 90' for Ismail Amour

Goals: Jakkraphan Kaewprom 18', Suchao 90+4' (penalty save)


Yellow Cards:
Palestine: Mohammed Shbair, Majed Abusidu, Khaled Mahdi, Murad Alyan, Khader Yousef
Thailand: Suchao Nutnum

Recap: Bezaz sent out a team that was meant to contain and neutralize Thailand's speedy counter attack. In the first half, the plan by and large failed as Palestine were overrun and lucky to escape trailing only 1-0. The goal coming after Thailand's makeshift right back, Jakkraphan Kaewprom, drifted into the area and struck a shot that deflected past Bahdari and into the net.

The team calmed down in the second half, with Wadi replacing the ineffective and almost invisible Murad Ismail. Ali El-Khatib got his first cap in place of Mohammed Samara and was more creative and more threatening from the set piece. Palestine's perseverance saw them go close through on of El-Khatib's crosses (a chance he created after less than 30 seconds on the pitch), an El-Khatib free kick, and an El-Khatib corner that Alyan nearly put in.
Palestine's hard work was nearly wasted as Captain Abdelatif Bahdari gave up a penalty in the last minute of normal time. Mohammed Shbair who had made save after save was called to make one more. He duly delivered diving to his right [EDIT: Not sure if Shbair saved it or if it went off the post] and preserving a manageable result for the return leg in Al-Ram on Thursday.

What I liked: Palestine regrouped in the second half and actually looked like a side with some sort of game plan. Omar Jarun and Abdelatif Bahdari were solid if unspectacular and helped cut out numerous Thai attacks. 1-0 is an acceptable away result and with that penalty save you would have to give the mental edge to Palestine.

What I didn't like: Palestine came out flat and nervous to start had they maintained their composure they might have been able to eek out a 0-0 draw. The officiating as is almost always the case in Asian matches was very, very poor. Tactically speaking, Palestine depends on width to get service into Alyan- there was precious little of that during this game.

Thailand Consensus:
Schaefer has done well to sort out the kinks in Thailand, they are still very poor finishers though. The War Elephants wasted chances aplenty and missed an opportunity to go 2-0 up from the spot. I feel like the more time Schaefer spends with this team the better they will be but he can't change the culture and mentality of the team in one month. The German manager will have his work cut out for him as Thailand have a horrendously poor record in West Asia and missed a chance to put away the game in the first leg.

What's Next: Palestine will face Thailand on Thursday in Al-Ram (7/28) they will need a win (by two goals) to progress.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Preview: Thailand vs. Palestine (1st Leg, WCQ)

What: 2nd Round AFC World Cup Qualifier (1st Leg)
When: 7/23/2011
Kickoff: 1200 GMT (1400 Jerusalem, 1800 Local)
Where: I-Mobile Stadium, Buri Ram, Thailand

TV: NBT 11 (Thailand)

Streams: Link1 Link 2

Past Meetings: None at senior level. Olympic Teams met in March and exchanged 1-0 home wins.

Teacher vs. Apprentice: It turns out Moussa Bezaz and Winfred Schaeffer know each other quite well. Bezaz coached the U-18 Al-Ain side during the German's time at the club.

Thailand beset by injury, self doubt: For information on Thailand's preparations you can read Paul Hewitt's guest blog- here.

Left Back quandary resurfaces: Ehab Abujazr was the only left back called up to the squad. It is his first call-up in nearly two years and only his second under Bezaz. Roberto Bishara was not released by Palestino whilst Samer Hijazi was excluded for rumored indiscipline before the second leg against Afghanistan. Abujazr wasn't able to get out of Gaza in time to join the training camp in Amman, he was scheduled to meet up with the team in Dubai and continue on to Buri Ram. There has been no confirmation on whether this has or hasn't happened.

Possible Starting XI:
Palestine (4-2-3-1)

Thailand (4-4-2/4-5-1)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

From Palestine

I crossed over to the West Bank yesterday ahead of next weeks clash with Thailand in AlRam. First I'm spending time with family in Tulkarem. The day started pleasantly enough with a trip to a nearby hilltop in Bal'a with picturesque views of surrounding towns. It was also a welcome escape from the humidity down below. From up there, we could see Nablus to the South, and the Mediterranean to the East.

I spent the afternoon with my cousin who is a Thaqafi supporter. We drove around Tulkarem and he treated me to the best Knafa I've ever tasted at a sweet shop called AlMasa. Of course, football was the subject of a decent portion of our discussions. It was most insightful especially because he has followed the league from the inside for as long as he can remember. We visited Thaqafi FC afterwards then proceeded to the Municipality football pitch(main football ground in Tulkarem) where we found his rival team Markaz Tulkarem practicing. I sympathize with Markaz for their relatively poor background and they happen to be the team my father supported growing up. They were in the middle of a scrimmage and we sat and watched the team from the refugee camp kick the ball around.

Former international Fadi Saleem was on the pitch as was Olympic midfielder Thaer AlBana. I waited for a break in the play to have the gentleman sitting next to me call Fadi Saleem over for a brief introduction. We exchanged niceties and I praised his past contributions to the national team midfield and of course, we took a picture..

Fadi is very humble and the rest of the players applauded clearly amused at his celebrity moment. Of course Markaz has produced another nationally reconizable face in Olympic star Khaled Salem.

This is my first visit to Palestine in 6 years or so and I am able to look at it with more mature eyes now. The experience at the Jordan border and the drive through the West Bank hills gave me quite a feel for the military occupation. I'll save my political insights for other outlets. I did get an idea as to what our national team represents. It unites these cities, towns and refugee camps spread across the occupied territories as it draws players from them. Not only that, but the diaspora is also represented in the squad lineup. In that sense, it truly unites Palestinians inside and outside Palestine.

We are set for an exciting week, be sure to check out Paul's guest article below on Thailand...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Blog: Thailand Preview

Winfred Schaefer feeling Zen during his unveiling ceremony.

A couple of weeks ago we asked friend of the blog Paul Hewitt to give us an idea of the atmosphere in the Thailand camp ahead of this weekend's 1st leg World Cup Qualifier. He duly responded with this excellent piece. So instead of a "Scouting the Opponent" segment we present to you Paul's take on the upcoming matches:

Thailand take on Palestine on Saturday at a new stadium and with a new head coach at the helm, but will anything change on the pitch? The signs weren’t good last week when the Elephants scraped a 1-0 win over lowly Myanmar; one day later a second-string side drew 1-1 against the same opposition. As usual, finishing was one of the major problems but the whole performance in the first game was hardly convincing. Coach Winnie Schaefer seemed far from impressed with what he saw in what was his first game in charge. The hugely experienced and successful German has only been in the job for about a month but already finds himself in a do or die situation. Football Association of Thailand president Worawi Makudi has rather short-sightedly demanded that making it through to the final group stage of qualifying is the minimum requirement for the new coach. So if the controversial chief is taken at his word then Schaefer could be looking for another job before the month is out!

Crucially for Palestine, and worryingly for Thailand, the latter hasn’t played a competitive match since the end of December; official FIFA Matchdays have come and gone without friendlies being organized, and the feeling of negativity amongst fans of the national side is almost palpable. Ask any fan about the current state of the national team and the words “crisis” and “going backwards” are likely to be heard; newspaper headlines scream the same after every match which doesn’t result in a win for Thailand, and the usual examples of recent “failure” are trotted out. Specifically, failing to get beyond the group stage at the 2009 SEA Games; being held to a 0-0 draw by the Maldives at the 2010 Asian Games, and exiting the AFF Cup also at the group stage at the end of the year.

But let’s look at those” failures” in a bit more detail. The SEA Games, a mini-Olympics for ASEAN countries, is a parochial little competition but highly regarded in the region. The football part of the games is an U23 affair and in the most recent addition in 2009, Thailand went out at the group stage after conceding two goals in the final few minutes against Malaysia to lose 2-1. That Thailand dominated the match and the fact that Malaysia went on to win the tournament were quickly forgotten as the media vented their collective spleen.

Mass amnesia also takes over where the 2010 Asian Games are concerned. The 0-0 group stage draw with the Maldivian minnows is dwelled upon; less talked about is the fact that Thailand made it out of the group, got through the last 16 by beating Turkmenistan in extra time before getting knocked out in the quarter-finals 1-0 by Japan. Again, Thailand was the better side for most of the match against the side that would go on to win the competition.

The AFF Suzuki Cup exit in December brought problems to a head in the national set up. The competition is contested by the eight best teams in Southeast Asia, and Thailand has been the traditional powerhouse over the years. It’s ASEAN’s Copa America or European Championships and is regarded as the most important competition on the calendar. After another disappointing group stage draw – this time 2-2 against Laos – Thailand went into their final group match against Indonesia needing a victory to be sure of progessing. At the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta – one of the most intimidating away trips in world football – Thailand dominated the match and deservedly took the lead halfway through the second half to stun the 70,000 Indonesians in attendance. But in the final ten minutes the same player, defender Panupong Wonsa, conceded two penalties both of which were successfully converted by Indonesia to win the game and send Thailand crashing out.

Coach Bryan Robson didn’t seem to have a future as coach after that, and after months of inactivity in the national team set up he eventually resigned in early June.

The appointment of Schaefer was generally welcomed by fans and media alike and the Thai Premier League mid-season break was extended to cover the whole of July in order to allow the new coach maximum time getting to know his new charges. All has not gone to plan for Schaefer though. One of his players, Anucha Kitipongsri, went AWOL from the training camp and later claimed that he had an injury and wouldn’t be able to play. In addition to him, first-teamers Sarayoot Chaikamdee, Suree Sukha, Ekaphan Intasen and Teerathep Winothai are all ruled out with injuries. Furthermore, two German assistants that Schaefer brought with him, Norbert Hauenstein and Frank Brasas, have already had to return to Germany; the first for private reasons and the latter because of a breakdown in contract negotiations.

So are Thailand in crisis? I wouldn’t go that far, but confidence is low; the team has barely played together for the past seven months and the coach is only just getting to know his players. Thailand will still be favourites to progress, but there’s scarcely been a better time for an underdog to take a bite out of the wounded Elephants.

National Team in Buriram, squad cut to 24 players

With Palestine's second round World Cup Qualifying clash with Thailand is less than 72 hours away we can now report that the National Team has arrived safely in rural Buriram. The trip spanned nearly 24 hours as the team travelled from their training camp in Amman to Bangkok with a stopover in Dubai. After arriving in Bangkok they made the 400 km journey to the site of the first leg clash.

The squad of 30 players has been cut down to 24. Strangely, no goalkeepers were cut meaning that there will be one healthy scratch- probably Toufic Ali- on the day of the game. The cuts that were made are as follows:

Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb (injured), Hesham Salhe (injured), Imad Zatara (Syrianska refused to release him), Rafit Eyad, Ahmed Harbi, & Khaled Salem.

The team is also expecting the late arrival of Ehab Abujazr who was due to join up with the team in Dubai (no information as of yet as to whether or not he was able to do that).

If Abujazr isn't able to join up with the team Bezaz might need to consider playing three at the back with Abusidu, Bahdari, and Jarun. Alternatively he could play Abusidu on the left and restore Husam Abu Saleh at right back.

The midfield picks itself: Ismael Amour, Samara, and Abu Bilal will support Murad Alyan while Houssam Wadi will be played alongside Khader Youssef as the doble pivotes that Bezaz is currently favoring.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bezaz calls up 30 players ahead of Thailand qualifier

According to news making the rounds on the kooora forums, Bezaz has chosen a squad of 30 players to train in Dubai (not Rabat as previously reported). Ma'an News has confirmed the location of the training camp as well as the addition of Balata and Olympic Team starlet Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb. The squad will have to be trimmed down to 23 players, meaning 6 field players and one goalkeeper will not make the trip to Buriram. The training camp will run from July 13-20.

The players dropped from the squad that faced Afghanistan include Ahmed Keshkesh and Abdullah Saidawi after their spat over the captaincy. Also dropped are Roberto Bishara, Samer Hijazi, and Suleiman Obeid. New additions are highlighted in bold, Olympic Team players have an asterisk besides their name:


Assem Abu Assi (Al-Am'ary)
Mohammed Shbair (Shabab Al-Khaleel)
Fahed Al-Fakhuri (Thaqafi Tulkarem)
Toufic Ali (Wadi Al-Nes)*


Abdelatif Bahdari (Hajer Club/KSA)
Omar Jarun (unattached, formerly of Tampa Bay FC/NASL)
Majed Abusidu (Yarmouk/KUW)
Khaled Mahdi (Al-Am'ary)
Ahmed Harbi (Al-Am'ary)
Nadim Barghouthi (Balata)*
Haitham Dheeb (Hilal Al-Quds)
Husam Abu Saleh (HIlal Al-Quds)
Ehab Abujazr (Hilal Al-Quds)
Rafit Eyad (Jabal Al-Mokaber)


Mohammed Samara (Arab Contractors/EGY)
Imad Zatara (Syrianska/SWE)
Ismail Amour (Al-Am'ary)
Ma'ly Kawre' (Al-Am'ary)
Houssam Wadi (Al-Am'ary)
Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb (Balata)*
Ali El-Khatib (Hilal Al-Quds)*
Murad Ismail (Hilal Al-Quds)
Hesham Salhe (Hilal Al-Quds)
Atef Abu Bilal (Shabab Al-Khaleel)
Khader Yousef (Wadi Al-Nes)
Ashraf Nu'man (Wadi Al-Nes)


Murad Alyan (Hilal Al-Quds)
Khaled Salem (Merkaz Tulkarem)*
Eyad Abugharqud (Shabab Al-Khaleel)
Fahed Attal (Shabab Al-Khaleel)

[UPDATE]: According to various news outlets, the National Team will hold its preparatory training camp in Amman.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Palestine get past Afghanistan, But Fail to Convince Many

Palestine qualified to the second stage of preliminary World Cup Qualifiers defeating Afghanistan 3-1 on aggregate. While the first leg was a clear 2-0 victory, its the return leg that has fans shaking their heads.

Horrible Second Half

Palestine went ahead courtesy of a Husam Wadi screamer and dominated the first half. They emerged from the locker room to face an energized Afghan squad that found its footing in the midfield and equalized the match. The team's performance was disappointing to say the least, but thats not to say we were in danger of losing. On the contrary, Palestine almost went ahead on a few occasions denied by the post, crossbar and the failure of the referee to allow an advantage after a foul that left Murad Alyan in the clear. Whatever the result might have ended, the lack of cohesion and the vulnerability of the defense raised doubts in the heads of many as to whether we would be up to the Thai challenge.

Home Field Advantage?

We weren't only let down by the player's performance, the home field advantage we thought we'd enjoy in the Faisal Husseini didn't seem to help much. We mentioned before that for maximum effectiveness the stands should be packed...we need them packed! The fact the game was at 5pm didnt help in that regard. Hopefully the PFA learns from this and schedules the Thailand return leg later in the evening.

Explanations and Excuses

Right after the first leg, the coaching staff talked about how exhausted the players were after playing in the 40 degree weather. Mousa Bezaz also complained about how closely the two legs were scheduled together. While these could be valid reasons for the drop in performance, lets not forget that the Afghan's were exposed to the same conditions and arguably had it harder.

The player's complacency in the second half could partly be explained by the fact we were ahead 3-0 on aggregate. In slang terms, it was in the bag and there was no reason to push forward for more. We saw this phenomenon in the Olympic side's Bahrain playoff where they were celebrating by half time only to go down by two later. This hints at a lack of professionalism.

Charging at Wild Elephants

The reason we hoped for and expected a big result against Afghanistan is not because we belittle them but because we know how much tougher the next test is. While Thailand is no football powerhouse, it is still a traditionally strong Asian side and it would have been nice to go up against them with convincing results behind us. They just signed the very capable Winfried Schaefer as manager and he made his intentions for the Thai team clear. To quote him:

"The symbol of the Thai team is a war elephant, it puts fear in everyones heart, its unstoppable....when the players go out on the field, they cannot be afraid, they must go out like wild elephants"

Palestine is the first stop of this "stampede". Don't worry Winnie, we'll put you to the test!

Going Forward

We didn't pummel what? At the end of the day, we got through the first stage as expected and thats what counts. The team has plenty of time to build on the cohesion of the past few weeks and learn from those mistakes made. I hope one or two friendlies against South East Asian sides are scheduled.

Stay tuned to the blog and twitter in the coming weeks for updates on preparations and assessments of our opponent...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Assessing Bezaz's tenure as NT Manager

Lost in the reports of how historic hosting a World Cup qualifier for the first time was the fact that the performance was quite poor. Two years into Mousa Bezaz's reign as manager of the National Team, Al-Fursan lack a distinct style and identity. The fact that Bezaz is working with an FA that now has $6 million at its disposal and league play that goes uninterrupted makes his ineptitude almost criminal.

Bezaz blamed tiredness for his team's flat performance yesterday which raises two serious questions:
1. Why is the team suffering from a general lack of fitness if it had spent 10 days in camp undergoing grueling two-a-days?
2. If the players were so knackered why didn't Bezaz rotate and play the likes of Attal, Murad Ismail, and Ashraf Nu'man from the start?

The match against Afghanistan started off brightly enough but after the first half-an-hour the tide began to shift in Team-e-Melli's favor. Bezaz should have adjusted in the first half it was clear that Palestine wasn't getting enough width from the fullbacks and wasn't creating much in the middle. As a result, Alyan wasn't getting any service up top. In the second half, these problems were exposed and resulted in Afghanistan keeping the ball well and eventually scoring the equalizer.

If Bezaz wants to keep his job he has to take action against those that went missing in this game. That should mean an abrupt end to Husam Abu Saleh's international career and a complete reshuffle in midfield. Khader Yousef, Atef Abu Bilal, and Suleiman Obeid were anonymous and did not track back or press. Many fans are on Roberto Bishara's case as well, he did not add a lot going forward but he made sure not to get beat and he had absolutely no help from any of the left sided midfielders.

Player Pool:

Bezaz has many luxuries that his predecessors weren't afforded most notably of which are a slew of official and unofficial friendlies. Most international managers use friendlies to tinker with their line-ups, test personnel, and suss out who is ready for big time international fixtures. A normal player pool for a manager who has had two years on the job and 17 official and unofficial games under his belt should have a pool of about 50 players who have debuted/played an actual game. Bezaz has only called up 56 players, an okay number, but tends to stick with the same starters. Below is a complete list of the 56 players, player in bold have started either an official or unofficial game for Palestine:

Goalkeepers (3/6):
Ramzi Saleh, Mohammed Shbair, Abdullah Saidawi, Azmi Shweiki, Fahed Al-Fakhuri, Saed Abusleem

Defenders (10/14):
Abdelatif Bahdari, Ra'fit Eyad, Samer Hijazi, Majed Abusidu, Ehab Abujazr, Ahmed Harbi, Haitham Dheeb, Hatem Karim, Ammar Abuseliesel, Khaled Mahdi, Omar Jarun, Shareef Adnan, Nadeem Barghouthi, Mohammed Al-Masri

Midfielders (10/16):
Suleiman Obeid, Houssam Wadi, Ismail Amour, Akram Al-Sayouri, Ashraf Nu'man, Hesham Salhe, Khader Yousef, Rami Al-Rabi, Ma'aly Kawre', Ayman Alhendi, Mohammed Samara, Shadi Allan, Murad Ismail, Imad Zatara, Hani Abu Bilal, Atef Abu Bilal, Husam Abu Saleh

Forwards (6/10):
Ahmad Allan, Mohammed Abukeshk, Fadi Lafi, Ahmed Keshkesh, Fahed Attal, Mohammed-Ali Shatreet, Said Al-Sobakhi, Mohammed Jamal Jebreen, Eyad Abugharqud, Murad Alyan.

What we can glean from the information above is that Mousa Bezaz tends to stick with the usual suspects (picking 20/26 outfield players he has handed starts to). He has become slightly more open minded in 2011 returning Omar Jarun, Roberto Bishara, Shareef Adnan to the fold and finally calling up Murad Alyan but it is clear that he doesn't put much thought in forming a squad.

Bezaz almost always calls up too few defenders and when an injury or unexpected absence hits the squad thing fall apart fast (The WAFF Championship and Husam Abu Saleh at RB are prime examples). Other faults include neglecting the diaspora (Does he even know that Edgardo Abdala exists?), playing players out of position, shoehorning too many forwards into one line-up, and exhibiting zero tactical onus. The squad Bezaz announced to face UAE in his first game as manager looks nearly identical to the one he announced to face Afghanistan nearly two years later. In fact the only thing he's done is replace Abusidu with less adept personnel and finally see the wisdom in calling up Alyan, Jarun, and Bishara.

Bezaz's Contract:

Bezaz signed on for two years back in late June/early July 2009. His job is riding on the ability to get Palestine to the group stages of World Cup qualifying. In order to do that he must beat a solid, but by no means spectacular Thailand side. Thailand have just hired a new manager (a very capable one at that) but seeing as how they're going into this match cold turkey it should be advantage Palestine. Also in Palestine's advantage is valuable first-hand experience from playing the Olympic side in March and the fact that Thailand has a miserable away record in the Middle East.


If Bezaz gets the team past Thailand he'll probably see his contract renewed for at least a year. Bezaz has yet to pass a big test and it is becoming increasingly evident that he isn't getting players to play to their potential. Perhaps we are being a little harsh on Bezaz, as we were blacked out of the first leg against Afghanistan (which by all accounts was a dominant display for Palestine). There will be a lot of discussion over who to bring in if Bezaz is let go. Many fans are already clamoring for a sensible and cheap replacement- Olympic Team Manager Mokhtar Al-Talili.

Mokhtar Al-Talili has had fewer friendlies, tougher tasks, and less talent yet has managed to accomplish more. The Olympic Team was in shambles before The Dinosaur arrived but he installed a system and searched the globe for talent. If there is a promising Gazan player he gets a chance, if there is a promising player of Palestinian heritage abroad he is approached, players are picked to fit a system instead of if they play for Hilal Al-Quds or Al-Am'ary.

The Olympic Team is at a point where it can go toe-to-toe with any side outside the Big 3. This is despite an extremely raw keeper, a shaky backline, and a whole lot of inexperience. Talili's team can keep the ball and dictate play or sit back and grind out a result. They have beaten Jordan (twice), Bahrain, and Thailand yet for all their accomplishments Bezaz has only called up one player- Ashraf Nu'man- to the senior side.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Post-match Thoughts: Palestine-Afghanistan (WCQ R1)

1. Killer Instinct

One of my colleagues put it best: "Palestine are a good team but lack mental toughness".

A more seasoned team would have put Afghanistan away in the first half, or at the very least held on to win the match 1-0. The goal was weak all around and it shows that Palestine might be able to put out a strong starting XI but they lack depth. Husam Abu Saleh is at best a third choice right back he was targeted by the Afghans all day long. Abdullah Saidawi isn't blameless either for a guy who has worn the captain's armband he showed a distinct lack of leadership. Ramzi Saleh would never get beaten on his near post and he would have been screaming his head off if his team played like that against a weaker opponent. This should improve if more professional players are included in the starting eleven against Thailand.

2. Is Bezaz playing favorites?

How else can you explain the absence of Majed Abusidu and his continued insistence of playing of playing Suleiman Obeid? There needs to be new blood injected into this squad and there are a couple of promising players on the Olympic team who are capable of making the jump. Hicham Ali and Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb actually do something Obeid and his counterparts struggle with: Keep possession and distribute. For an idea of what our squad of 23 would look like click here.

3. Creating a fortress at home:

The FA really fouled up by scheduling this game at 5 pm, on a weekday no less. Look at the atmosphere during the Jordan game or the Thailand Olympic qualifier as opposed to the Olympic qualifier against Bahrain and today's game against Afghanistan. The attitude of the fans was very passive which wasn't the case during the night games. Faisal Al-Husseini can be an intimidating place but only when it is pack to the rafters not when there are swaths of empty seats.

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1 : 1 Afganistan

Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Saidawi; Abu Saleh, Bahdari, Jarun, Bishara; Wadi, Khader Youssef (Murad Ismail 77'); Amour (Abugharqud 85'), Obeid, Abu Bilal (Ashraf Nu'man 60')

Recap: Palestine started brightly and seemed to have Afghanistan on the back foot. When Wadi scored 11 minutes into the game it really looked like this could have been a 3-0 or 4-0 rout as predicted. Credit to the Afghans though they toughed out the first half and Palestine who were pressing all over the place began to tire.

Certain cracks have been exposed in this group of players. Husam Abu Saleh at right back is the most glaring problem and the Afghans exploited him repeatedly in this game. Harbi's inability to travel for the away leg and his lack of match fitness saw Abu Saleh start again. If this performance doesn't earn Shareef Adnan (Al-Faisaly/JOR) or Majed Abusidu (Tadamon/KUW) a reprieve I don't know what will.

There were other chances in this game, Alyan was called back when he should have been given an advantage to score a go ahead goal in the first half. Amour grazed his shot off the post in the closing moments as well.

In the second half, the disjointed performance was broken up by moments that evidenced Palestine's quality. Alyan put a shot off the post, Jarun was almost doubled the lead with a header, Ashraf Nu'man was close to pulling one back after the Afghan equalizer, and Alyan forced Yousufzai into a super mano-a-mano save.

It has to be said that the Afghans were calmer on the ball in the second half, they worked past the Palestinian midfield with relative ease. Three out of the four in the backline were ready to snuff out anything that was thrown at them, one was not and that is exactly how Bilal Arezou grabbed the equalizer.

In the end, it was mission accomplished for Palestine. They are through but will need to answer a lot of questions if they're to advance past Thailand.

What I liked: Wadi's goal was phenomenal. The Bahdari-Jarun partnership is ready for prime time they couldn't really be faulted for the goal and destroyed many dangerous Afghan forays.

What I didn't like: Saidawi getting beat at his near post, Abu Saleh offering nothing in defence and nothing going forward, the double pivot of Wadi and Yousef should have been dominating possession instead they were dominated.

What I didn't like (part 2): This needed to be a night game it would have ensured a better atmosphere and allowed for more people to attend the match from the start. Someone needs to tell the FA that Sunday is a weekday in Palestine. The TV coverage from PSC was some of the worst television I have seen in my years watching the sport. The camera was all over the place and I know that PSC doesn't have the biggest budget but it was bad by even their low standards.

Afghanistan Consensus: Probably would be in the second round if they landed another team in the draw (remember that Palestine was the low seed and only ourselves and Philippines managed to advance). It looked they were the ones who had more time to rest and practice for this match. Arzeou is a very clever player and Jalaludin Sharyhtar was one of the best players out there dominant in defence and playing a role in Arzeou's goal. It's a shame they were not able to qualify for the Challenge Cup Finals.

What's Next: Palestine face Thailand in Bangkok in 20 days and the return leg is slated for the 28th. Omar Jarun and possibly Roberto Bishara will have to return to their clubs. But it should be back to training for the rest of the bunch. Expect Bezaz to call up some new faces and reshuffle his deck.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Preview: Palestine vs. Afghanistan (2nd Leg, WCQ)

What: World Cup Preliminary Qualifier (2nd Leg)
When: July 3rd, 2011
Where: Al-Ram, Palestine
Venue: Faisal Al-Husseini Int'l Stadium
Kickoff: 1400 GMT

TV: Palestine Satellite Channel

Previous Encounters:
29/06/2011: Afghanistan 0 : 2 Palestine

The day we have all been waiting for is finally here. Palestine will host its first ever competitive full international on Palestinian soil when they take on Afghanistan tomorrow (July 3). Having picked up a tidy 2-0 win in Tajikistan last week, the home crowd will be expecting the team put on a festival of football at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium. Palestine will be boosted by the return of Abdelatif Bahdari (Hajer/KSA) and Ahmed Harbi (Al-Am'ary/WBPL) who weren't able to travel for the first leg due to Israeli restrictions. Barring a complete lack of fitness the two players should replace Khaled Mahdi and Husam Abu Saleh, forming a formidable back line with Omar Jarun (Tampa Bay FC/NASL) and Roberto Bishara (Palestino/CHI).

Bezaz will have his fair share of decisions to make in the midfield. Ismail Amour started on the bench in the first leg but was impressive in his 24 minute cameo, bagging the insurance goal and setting up several chances. Houssam Wadi should retain his place in midfield but could be partnered by Murad Ismail instead of Khader Youssef. Atef Abu Bilal started on the left and set up Murad Alyan for the first goal; he is expected to retain his place.

The aforementioned Alyan has been a scoring machine he bagged his fifth international goal in four games (all in competitive matches). He should start but might not play 90 minutes for the second time in one week. There are bigger questions surrounding his potential strike partner, Keshkesh only play 66 minutes in the first leg due to a lack of complete match fitness. Bezaz is faced with three choices: He could go deploy a 4-4-1-1 with Keshkesh or Attal or he could go back to the 4-2-3-1 he used during the Challenge Cup Qualifiers and field Amour, Obeid, and Abu Bilal behind Alyan.

As for the Afghans they are still on their way to Al-Ram they have flown to Dubai and then to New Dehli and will board a flight to Amman and cross the border sometime tonight. It remains to be seen whether they will make it in time for the match. [UPDATE]: Afghanistan have just crossed over the border, the game is on!.


The circumstances seem to be working against Afghanistan again. FIFA scheduled these home and away matches so close together that the 2-0 advantage Palestine earned in Tajikistan could be close to unassailable. If and when Afghanistan arrives in Palestine they may not have time for anything more than a pre-game training session.

Al-Fursan on the other hand are well rested and reinforced by the return of Ahmed Harbi and talisman Abdelatif Bahdari. It might be a case of damage limitation for Team-e-Melli; they were unable to score on a defence featuring the likes of Khaled Mahdi and Husam Abu Saleh and will have a tougher time with what is close to the strongest back line in the history of the national team. With a capacity crowd expected at Faisal Al-Husseini all the factors are present for a big win.

Palestine 4 : 0 Afghanistan