Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011 Pan-Arab Games: Palestine drawn in Group 3

Palestine has been drawn alongside Jordan, Sudan, and Libya in Group 3 of the football tournament at the Pan-Arab Games. Considering Palestine's status as one of the lowest ranked teams it is a manageable group as Al-Fursan have traditionally fared well against their group opponents.

The other groups are as follows:

Group 1: Qatar, Iraq, Bahrain, Syria

Group 2: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Somalia

Group winners will advance to the semifinals alongside the best second place team.

Palestine has played Libya once before- a 2-2 draw at the 1999 Pan Arab Games helped Palestine win the group enroute to a third place finish. They also boast a similar record against Sudan- drawing 2-2 at the 2002 Arab Cup (I can't believe that great competition no longer exists!) and more recently drawing 1-1 in Ommdourman in June 2010.

And of course there is Jordan- Palestine's second most frequent opponent (7 encounters, 4 D 3L) since joining FIFA in 1998. Palestine have drawn the last three encounters 1-1 in 2002, 2004, and 2008. Jordan's last win came in 2000 in Asian Cup qualifying- Palestine's first qualification campaign.

The form book can thrown out the window, however, if Palestine don't hire a new manager soon. The first match, against Jordan, is slated for December 11th and at this point it looks likely that Palestine will be led by an interim manager.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ali El-Khatib in a spot of bother

El-Khatib (L) had been off to a great start with Hilal

As you may know Hilal Al-Quds beat second place Shabab Al-Khaleel to continue their perfect start to the league season. The Jerusalem based side have won their first six games, scoring 20 goals whilst only conceding once. So it was a little strange to read that Ali El-Khatib was being investigated for "manipulating the results of games".

What exactly has the club charged El-Khatib with?

According to the higher ups at Hilal Al-Quds, Ali El-Khatib had agreed to throw away the game against Shabab El-Khaleel. The club said that a fee had been agreed between El-Khatib and his former manager Samir Eissa. They point to the fact that Ali El-Khatib had refused to suit up for the crucial tie against the Hebron based side.

After the news broke, El-Khatib responded by saying that he was forced to miss the match because it happened to coincide with his wedding day. In an even more bizarre twist, the young midfielder claimed that Chairman Abdel-Qader El-Khatib (no relation) had sent henchmen to kidnap him and forced him to sign papers altering his financial compensation.

Needless to say, Shabab Al-Khaleel manager Samir Eissa isn't too happy about being accused of match fixing. He has asked the PFA to formulate an investigatory committee to look into the matter.

For their part, Hilal Al-Quds have formed their own investigatory committee and have reached the decision to suspend Ali El-Khatib for the remainder of the season.

Ali El-Khatib has three senior caps with the national team and came on as a substitute against Thailand in the first and second legs. He has shown a knack for providing a spark coming off the bench and seemed to be destined for a bright future with the National Team. It is a shame to see his reputation be tarnished in such an explicit manner especially with accusations that seem questionable at best.

Monday, October 10, 2011



Thursday, October 6, 2011

Who gets the blame?

Let me be clear. I didn't think Palestine was going to win this one, nor did I think they could grind out a draw. In the past, when we have met Iran or teams in the Top 8 in Asia we tended to put in a valiant performance and succumb to a 2-0 or 3-0 loss. Those were my expectations. To see your team get blown out 7-0 is demoralizing, even if it is just a friendly.

In the boardroom:
The PFA has to be held to account they seem to not realize the urgency of putting a manager in place. Palestine can improve, as I've said before talent wise Jordan isn't any better, the difference is that they have had Mahmoud Al-Gohary in charge for a decade. As a result they have completely revamped their domestic league and national team. Palestine needs a guy like that. Jibril Rajoub said he was on the look out for a foreign coach who could take Palestine to the next level. He has yet to deliver on his promise.

To further compound the problem- the PFA decided to select a team and send them to far away lands to play two friendlies. Both resulted in disaster Palestine's 4:1 loss to Indonesia was masked by the fact that Palestine was up 1-0 after 65 minutes. But there is no hiding from a 7:0 result, even if you did send a relatively inexperienced side.

Jibril Rajoub's regime is a joke. I'm glad he has announced that he will not run for another term next year because he has struggled to achieve the same results with eight times the budget. Yes, he has got the league up and running without interruption, he has secured Palestine the right to host games, but what has he done to transform Palestinian football? ZERO. Before Rajoub the team played under ridiculous circumstances but still managed to put in spirited performances. The teams of a previous generation never had league play, training camps, and stipends they had an excuse. What is Rajoub's excuse?

On the bench:
The players and coaching staff don't get a pass here. The moment you put on that shirt you have a moral obligation to run yourself ragged defending it. I saw that attitude in the first half- but in the second half- especially after Nekounam's penalty the team just quit. Quitting is unacceptable, I don't mind losing after seeing the team gave 110% but to see a team shut down mentally with more than half an hour to play is pathetic.

The coaching staff was naïve in its formation and player selection. The midfield was flat and there was no effort from Kawre' or Khader Youssef to break up the Iranian attack. Instead they sort of just ushered them to our box and let another player in a redshirt deal with it. Playing with two forwards was such a tactical folly. No one plays with two up front in the modern era, the most common formations are 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, and 4-3-3. Iran played a 4-3-3, we knew they were going to play this the most logical response would have been to pack the midfield with five. Instead what we ended up with was Khader Youssef and Ma'ly Kawre' vs. Teymourian, Karimi, and Nekounam.

The coaching staff failed in instilling a game plan. When you face a side ranked 112 spots above you, you need to be prepared to play without the ball. Palestine was not and their forwards never saw the ball. Why? Because in the few instances Iran lost the ball Meydavoudi and Khalatabari (or Rezaei/Kazemian in the second half) tracked back and we were outnumbered. The only way to get the ball to the forwards was to launch it in the air. Which is why Khaled Salem not starting was even more of asurprise (When he did come on he forced Gordan into making a save- Palestine's only shot of the game).

On the pitch

I'm not going to bother with rating the players. It was big giant F for anyone involved in this game. I thought Obeid and Amour could have been more effective if used properly they showed flashes here and there. Attal, Abugharqud, Khader Youssef, & Ma'ly Kawre' were invisible throughout. The latter two are joint hide-and-go-seek champions, whenever a white shirt was bursting through midfield they were nowhere to be found. On a positive note, I thought Raed Fares did a good job of shutting down the right flank. Seeing how the alternatives to Majed Abusidu are actually wingers (Adnan, Harbi, and Abu Saleh) this is the one positive we can take from this match.

After reviewing the tape, here is who gets the blame for the goals:

1st Goal: Samer Hijazi got schooled twice by Khalatbari whose cross deflected off of Al-Masri. With the ball's speed slowing down, Barghouthi should have turned around to deal with Ghazi (who scored the goal). He had plenty of time to do this but instead stared at the ball, unsure of what to do. Shbair's positioning wasn't the greatest but I blame Barghouthi for this one.

2nd Goal: A lot of people to blame, the midfield was doing a really crappy job of picking up their opponents. Hijazi was out of position so Al-Masri had to shift over to chase down Mahni. All credit to Al-Masri (he actually got a piece of the ball) he did his job but Barghouthi did not- Ansarifard was wide open. Shbair could have come to snuff out the danger but he hesitated. The culprits are the same: Barghouthi, Hijazi, and to a lesser extent Shbair.

3rd Goal: Again, plenty of blame. Abugharqud had just wasted a chance at the other end. After the ensuing goal kick, players were either slow to recover or wanted to attempt to pressure Iran in their own area. Shbair has to get the full blame here because Barghouthi and Fares were in the box along with Ansarifard. Even if Kazemian got past Shbair he would not have a clear sight on goal. There was no need to go to ground, especially when going to ground is not your strengths (Unlike Ramzi Saleh).

4th Goal: Weak goal, off a throw in. You can blame poor marking, Khaled Salem and Samer Hijazi rushed to cover Ansarifard- who was already covered by Fares and Barghouthi. Kazemian was left wide open. Despite the poor marking, Shbair has to come out for this one. He is glued to the line at all times. If he goes out and confronts Kazemian there is a 60% chance he wins a foul even if he doesn't get the ball.

5th Goal: A well taken corner and a powerful header. Credit to Iran for devising this set play.

6th Goal: Ridiculous 40 yard screamer from Pejman Nouri. Where is the midfield? Khader Youssef gets the blame along with whomever replaced Kawre'. There wasn't a red shirt within 10 yards of him.

7th Goal: Barghouthi had a good opportunity to intercept the ball, and fluffed it... badly. Shbair again came out (right decision) and promptly went to ground (wrong decision) even though Kazemian didn't have a clear shot at goal.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Iran 7 : 0 Palestine (Friendly*)

Palestine Starting XI (4-4-2): Shbair; Fares, Barghouthi, Al-Masri, Hijazi; Amour (c), K. Youssef, Kawre', Obeid; Attal, Abugharqud.

Goals: 1-0 (Ghazi), 2-0 (Ansarifard), 3-0 (Nekounam) p., 4-0 (Montazeri), 5-0 (Kazemian), 6-0 (Nouri), 7-0 (Kazemian) p.

Recap: The silver lining here is that this match might not enter FIFA's record books because the match officials were Iranian ([UPDATE] Iran used 7 subs, so it isn't an official game). That said it was an affair that seemed doomed from the very first minute. Palestine managed to hold on for the first 44 minutes in that span Shbair made at least half-a-dozen saves. Iran racked up 9 corners (Palestine had none) and were dominating in every single phase of the game. It isn't a surprise seeing how many key players were missing for Palestine. The best goal of the game was Pejman Nouri's wonder strike to make it 6-0. The worst goal was the opener not only was it a bad time to go down a goal but there was a lot of ball-watching going on the part of Shbair and his defenders. The two penalties awarded to Iran by their countryman were legitimate although Kazmeian did sell it.

What I didn't like: The 4-4-2. This just goes to show that the "interim staff" have no idea what they're doing. Abugharqud and Attal were invisible for much of the game, the midfield was overwhelmed and far too flat.

What I liked: Iran play some nice football, they're quite fun to watch (although not when they're beating Palestine 7-0). Abuhabib made his debut, Khaled Salem had the only shot on goal, Suleiman Obeid chipped the keeper but saw his shot hit the cross bar. [UPDATE] After looking over the tape, I have to say Raed Fares might have been the best player out there today- most the attacks came down Hijazi's side, Raed Fares cannot be blamed for any of the goals- which is weirdly impressive.

Wake up call: The PFA seems to think that it isn't really important to have a manager. They also don't put in enough of an effort to establish a relationship with clubs that have Palestinian players in their ranks. So you get situations were a player is called up only for the club to refuse his release (which is what happened to Bahdari). They've taken it upon themselves to send two weakened squads to Indonesia and Iran without a manager. I don't know how much wisdom and experience can be derived from 7-0 drubbings especially when the team so clearly lacks a game plan.

What's Next: Pan-Arab Games in December. Maybe the PFA will have a real manager and something representing a first choice squad by then.

(I will post more analysis in the comments section, some of my views/analysis just can't be contained in a RR piece).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Preview: Palestine vs. Iran (Friendly)

What: International Friendly
When: October 5th, 2011
Where: Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran
Kick0ff: 1900 (Local Time)

TV/Streams: JaamJam2 (click the first link, click IRIB TV Channels, click on JaamJam2)

Previous Meetings:

2008: WAFF Championship L 0-3
2007: WAFF Championship L 0-2
2002: West Asian Games D 2-2
2000: WAFF Championship D 1-1

Palestine will face off against an Iran squad stacked with some of the biggest names in Asian football. Ali Karimi, Javad Nekounam, and Andranik Teymourian have all been included in Carlos Quieroz's 23-man squad.

One promising player called up for Iran is promising Wolfsburg forward Ashkan Dejagah. Some might remember him from his days as a German national at youth level when he famously refused to play against Israel in a U-21 Euro qualifier. Four years on, he is set to make the switch to the Iranian national team after accumulating a whopping 50 caps at youth level for Germany. His debut will have to wait though due to bureaucratic red-tape within the Iranian government.

Bureaucratic red-tape, has affected Palestine's squad for this game as well. The official line is that all the Palestinians with Israeli documents have turned down the call-up due to work commitments. This is very strange, especially seeing how the only player known to hold down a full-time job is Murad Alyan.

The more likely scenario is that players with Israeli travel documents were excluded either unilaterally by the PFA or at the behest of the Iranian counterparts. This means the squad will be without: Murad Alyan, Ahmed Harbi, Atef Abu Bilal, Ali El-Khatib, Haitham Dheeb, and new Shabab Al-Khaleel recruit Jehad Rabie.

The absences of established National and Olympic team players opens the door for some new players to make an impression. Khaled Salem will get an opportunity to strut his stuff with the full senior team. If Palestine are to retain the 4-2-3-1 formation he will most likely get the start as he is the only forward able to play as a lone striker effectively.

With Khaled Mahdi missing out through injury (and the exclusion of Omar Jarun and Roberto Bishara) there is also an opportunity for a center back to stake his claim for a spot in the team. Nadim Barghouthi is the most in form whilst Ri'fat Eyad is the most experienced. There is also an opportunity for Hilal Al-Quds's Raed Fares to show what he can do at right back. Samer Hijazi will most likely start on the left once again.

The midfield will be under tremendous pressure to keep Iran at bay and try and carve out some semblance of possession. Houssam Wadi returns to the squad but there are questions over his match fitness having not played a single match with Al-Am'ary this season. A premium will need to be placed on keeping possession of the ball- something the team struggles to do away from home. Abdelhamid Abuhabib should be given the role of playmaker if only for his ability to hold on to possession.

This match will be a struggle but could provide a valuable learning experience ahead of the Pan-Arab Games and Challenge Cup. Iran will most likely win this match. They're at home and are probably the best team in Asia in terms of raw talent but Palestine can and should make it difficult for them. Prediction: Iran 3 Palestine 1

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Squad to face Iran announced

Fahed Attal in action against Iran at the 2007 WAFF Championship

So keeping in true PFA tradition a friendly has been hastily organized, without a manager, and with overtones of brotherly cooperation.

Mazen El-Khatib will lead the squad out for this match in the absence of a fully fledged National Team Manager. Makram Dabdoub will assist him in his duties.

Abdelatif Bahdari is expected to captain the squad for the fourth time and is the only foreign based player included in the squad:

Goalkeepers: Abdullah Saidawi (Hilal Al-Quds), Mohammed Shbair (Shabab Al-Khaleel)

Defenders: Abdelatif Bahdari (Hajer FC/KSA), Ri'fat Eyad , Samer Hijazi (both Jabal Al-Mukaber), Nadim Barghouthi (Shabab Al-Khaleel), Raed Fares (Hilal Al-Quds), Mohammed Al-Masri (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh),

Midfield: Musa Abujazr (Shabab Al-Khaleel), Houssam Wadi, Suleiman Obeid, Ma'ly Kawre', Ismail Amour, (All Al-Am'ary), Khader Youssef, Ashraf Nu'man (Tarji Wadi Al-Nes), Arafat Serhan, Abdelatif Abuhabib (both Balata), Murad Ismail (Hilal Al-Quds), Thaer Qaraeen (Jabal Al-Mukaber)

Forwards: Khaled Salem (Shabab Al-Dhahrieh), Fahed Attal, Eyad Abugharqud (both Shabab Al-Khaleel)

First things first, let me congratulate Mazen El-Khatib on his ability to pick a balanced squad something Abdel-Nasser Barakat struggled with over the past two years (let's face it Musa Bezzaz was never in the country long enough to determine which players were in form). I think most would have liked to see Ramzi Saleh make his return after a one-year absence. Other foreign-based players would be better served by staying at their clubs (if only to cultivate better relations with them):

  • Imad Zatara is just coming back from an injury layoff and Syrianska are in a battle for Allsvenskan survival.
  • Polish Liga I does not suspend play during FIFA breaks and Omar Jarun's Arka plays 72 hours after the Iran friendly.
  • Mohammed Samara could be playing in the Egypt Cup Final if Arab Contractors beat ENPPI.
  • Roberto Bishara plays his club football seven time zones away and I'd rather get his release for the Challenge Cup and Pan-Arab games.

According to local press Murad Alyan, Ahmed Harbi, Atef Abu Bilal, and other Arab-Israelis have been excluded from the squad due to work commitments. Looks like they're saving up vacation days for the Pan Arab Games in December and the Challenge Cup in March.