Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: A Review (National Team)

The 24 hour news channels would have kept us entertained otherwise, but we had a lot to cover in 2011. It would be a disservice not to provide you with a recap of what was a roller-coaster year. So lets take a look back...
Challenge Cup Qualifiers
The National Team started off the year with preparations for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. Myanmar hosted the qualifying group which also included Bangladesh and the Philippines. In the lead up, Palestine toured Tanzania and Pakistan before camping in Kuwait. An important realization Mousa Bezaz made in this period is that ignoring league top scorer Murad Alyan in favour of younger strikers who were in less form was not paying off, and the 33 year old was called up for the trip to Yangoon.
Bangladesh was the first opponent and were brushed aside with a 2-0 win – Alyan grabbing both goals with great support from Amour. After a goalless draw with the Philippines, Palestine was up against Myanmar to seal the deal. The hosts went ahead thanks to an early penalty but Al-Fursan kept their composure and netted three goals by way of Alyan and Harbi, ensuring Palestine’s qualification to the AFC Challenge Cup finals.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Snapshot - 2011

Ranking evolution - 2011 (source: FIFA.com)

2011 Results (source: FIFA.com) - click to enlarge
Note: Jordan and Libya Pan Arab Games matches not FIFA recognized, by request of their FAs
Also not included: unofficial friendlies with Pakistan & South Africa's development squad

A more detailed look at the year will be posted soon...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Assessing player performance at Pan Arab Games

Below is a quick rundown of how each player preformed at the Pan Arab Games. Instead of rating players on a scale of 1-10 they are in general categories.


Haitham Dheeb: Played the most minutes and started every single match. Rarely ever beaten for pace- picked up only one yellow. A huge improvement over his previous appearances with the national team.

Mohammed Al-Masri: Neglected in favor of Khaled Mahdi during Moussa Bezaz's tenure he has proved all doubters wrong. An absolute warrior on the pitch who battled injury throughout the tournament. One of the survivors of the 7-0 massacre at the hands of Iran has rebounded nicely since then helping Palestine beat Bahrain 1-0 in his second cap and was key in Palestine progressing from the group stage.

Ahmed Harbi: His problems with defensive positioning are now gone. Takes fewer gambles in attack but when he does go up he can be deadly- his long ball provided Palestine with the last gasp equalizer against Libya.

Murad Ismail: Another player transformed by the departure of Bezaz and arrival of Mahmoud. In his last competitive match for Palestine he turned in a woeful first half display against Thailand and had to be taken off at halftime. Qalqilya's own had a strong and steady Pan Arab Games campaign.

Husam Abu Saleh: Had one of the worst performances I have ever seen against Afghanistan as a right back. Under Mahmoud, he has played competently as an attacking right back providing the service for Ismail Amour's goal against Sudan. Could have scored against Jordan (his effort hit the crossbar) and Kuwait.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 0 (0-3 aet) 0 Kuwait (Pan Arab Games)

Palestine Starting XI: Toufic Ali; Harbi, Al-Masri, Dheeb, Fares; Abu Saleh, Ismail, Kawre', Nu'man; Amour; Alyan.

Substitutions: Alyan <-> Obeid / Kawre' <-> Khader Youssef / Dheeb <-> Abu Bilal

What it Means: Palestine finish in fourth place, a more than respectable finish when you consider that Palestine finished ahead of the hosts and two African Cup of Nations finalists.

Preview: Palestine vs. Kuwait

What: Bronze Medal Match, 2011 Pan Arab Games
When: December 22nd, 2011
Where: Al-Gharafa Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Kickoff: 1630 GMT
TV: Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass

Previous Encounters:

08/10/2003 Kuwait 4:0 Palestine
05/10/2003 Kuwait 2:1 Palestine
25/12/2002 Kuwait 3:3 Palestine

Kuwait and Palestine have only met in competitive encounters- all in Kuwait City. their first meeting coming at the 2002 Arab Nations Cup. A highly entertaining match in Kuwait City ended in a 3-3 draw, both team were searching for a win in order to progress to the knockout stage but the draw ensured that neither would qualify. They would meet again in 2004 Asian Cup Qualifying, Kuwait won the first game with a late winner and would win the rematch three days later against a nine man Palestine.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1:3 Bahrain (Pan Arab Games Semifinal)

Palestine Starting XI: Saidawi (c), Abu Saleh, Al-Masri, Dheeb, Fares; Ismail, Kahder Youssef; Amour, El-Khatib, Zatara; Nu'man.

Subs: Al-Masri <-> Harbi / Zatara <-> Abu Bilal / Amour <-> Salem

Goals: Ashraf Nu'man 40' (p.)

What it Means: Palestine will have to settle for the bronze medal game. They will face the loser of the Kuwait-Jordan semifinal on Thursday (Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass 16.30 GMT).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Preview: Palestine v. Bahrain (Pan Arab Games Semifinal)

What: Pan Arab Games Semifinal
When: December 20th, 2011
Where: Al-Gharafa Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Kickoff: 1430 GMT
TV: Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass

Previous Meetings:
16/02/2006 Bahrain 0:2 Palestine
02/09/2004 Bahrain 1:0 Palestine

For whatever reason, Palestine have a very good record against Bahrain. In three encounters, their only loss came in a game where Ramzi Saleh was ejected in the 19th minute- even then only a last gasp goal gave Bahrain the win.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 2:0 Sudan (Pan Arab Games)

Starting XI (4-4-2): Saidawi (c); Harbi, Dheeb, Al-Masri, Abujazr; Zatara, Kawre', Khader Youssef, Ali El-Khatib; Amour, Alyan.

Substitutions: Harbi <-> Abu Saleh / Alyan <-> Khaled Salem / El-Khatib <-> Fares

What it means: Jordan's 0-0 draw against Libya allowed Palestine to finish second in the group and advance to the semifinals over Sudan (by virtue of the goals scored tie breaker). There was some controversy in giving Group C two semifinal berths. Critics wanted the best runner-up to advance as based on results against the top two opponents in each group. Well there should be no controversy because Palestine has more points (3- eliminating the point won against last placed Libya) than Saudi Arabia (1) and Qatar (2). Palestine will face Bahrain in the semifinals (Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass 1430 GMT) on Tuesday.

Recap: Palestine needed goals in order to have any chance of advancing and came out looking to score them. Palestine's speed and dexterity on the wings gave the Sudanese defence fits; Imad Zatara was the protagonist in Nasereldin Moussa's sending off forcing the player to commit two reckless challenges. Ali El-Khatib put Palestine 1-0 up three minutes later but only after Ismail Amour had hit the crossbar twice (his second shot was parried by the keeper onto the bar).

The first half dominance was stark- Palestine created multiple scoring chances whilst Sudan headed into the dressing room without even an attempt on goal. The inclusion of Mohammed Marhoum for Sudan helped them come back into the match but with a numerical disadvantage the Desert Hawks could not fully exploit his menacing pace.

For all their dominance, Al-Fursan were struggling to put away chances- Murad Alyan should have done better with a header while Imad Zatara saw a shot hit the underside of the post and bounce out. Amour would make sure Palestine would not live to rue its chances conjuring up the goal of the tournament with a lovely chip. Sudan pushed forward in desperation for the final half an hour and Palestine- in search of an insurance goal- should have had at least one after Amour (twice) and Khaled Salem failed to beat Akram Salem in one-on-ones.

What I liked: The team's off the ball movement was excellent probably the best I have ever seen it. For the past five years it seems as if the team was divided into an attacking zone and a defending zone. Not anymore, everyone tracks back and presses for the ball, the full backs make over lapping runs- it's a joy to watch. Palestine set the tone for this game from the kickoff it needed a win by two goals and got it relatively comfortably.

What I didn't like: Palestine must start finishing off its chances if it wants to play in the final. Amour missed two easy chances at the end of the game after his goal.

TV Production: For whatever reason Ali El-Khatib and Abdullah Saidawi's names flashed on screen today with yellow cards next to them. Against Libya the production crew determined a ref's yellow card was for Murad Alyan (it was for the Libyan defender who kicked the ball in the stands as to allow Samir Aboud time to run back to his goal). To add insult to injury these cards all appear on the Pan Arab Games's official website. If we are to follow that, both Murad Alyan and Imad Zatara would miss the semifinal against Bahrain. Following on that theme- the pundits were completely unprepared for a Palestine victory tonight. I heard that Al-Kass commentators said Palestine needed to score four goals to advance. In the Al-Jazeera studio they said the team needed three. The Egyptian fellow doing play-by-play showed off his arithmetic skills on air in the 70th minute and finally figured out, that as things stood, Palestine were going through.

Random Thoughts: Jamal Mahmoud has the best poker face, he is so stoic, so void of emotion- like a Palestinian Bob Bradley. It was nice to see him finally crack a smile after the final whistle.

What's Next: Palestine face Bahrain in the Pan Arab Games semifinal on Tuesday December 20th (Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass 1430 GMT).


Ali Khatib and Ismail Amour scored the two goals Palestine needed to qualify to the next round today.

The whole team though should be credited for the brave, confident display in both the Sudan and Libya games, especially considering the disaster the first game was.

Takes me back to the 2002 Arab Cup where we played beautiful football, and got results. Onwards!

Preview: Palestine vs. Sudan (Pan Arab Games)

What: 2011 Pan Arab Games
When: December 17, 200 [today]
Where: Al-Rayyan Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Kickoff: 1430 GMT
TV: Al-Jazeera Sports // Al-Kass TV

Previous Meetings:

4/6/2010 Sudan 1:1 Palestine

Palestine gave Sudan an early lead after a (literal) defensive slip up left Tareq Mokhtar free to head in a corner. Mohammed Jamal pulled one back on his debut but the match was to end 1-1 with neither team able to overcome the stifling heat in Omdurman.

23/12/2002 Palestine 2:2 Sudan

Palestine twice took the lead only to surrender equalizers in what would become the theme of their Arab Nations Cup campaign. Fadi Salim opened the scoring after 31 minutes and got a quick reply through Ziyad Al-Kord in the second half after Sudan had equalized. After looking set to grab their first win of the campaign they were made to settle for a draw thanks to Tajjedinne Al-Tijani's 88th minute equalizer.

Last Round:

Sudan 0:0 Jordan

Palestine 1:1 Libya

Wednesday's results means all four teams are in with a chance of qualifying for the semifinal stage. Conversely, no team is safe from elimination. Palestine stayed alive after a dramatic late equalizer courtesy of Imad Zatara. Neither Jordan nor Sudan could seal a place as they played out a drab 0-0 draw.

The Opponent: Sudan are suffering from a crisis in front of goal. Their inability to score or even carve out chances has been on full display during this tournament. Sudan have opted for a compact approach in order to overcome their offensive impotence and it has worked so far (although they were fortunate to get a win against Libya). Expect the same approach tomorrow as the Desert Hawks know that another 0-0 result would be good enough to advance (barring a two goal Libya win over Jordan).

Tactical Change? Jamal Mahmoud has shown he isn't shy about changing his lineup and with Husam Abu Saleh and Ismail Amour returning from suspension there could be more shakeups. Palestine went for a 4-2-3-1 against Jordan and then switched to a 4-4-2 against Libya with Murad Alyan lining up next to Khaled Salem. Expect Mahmoud to tinker with the lineup yet again in order to ensure Palestine has a chance at a two-goal win and progression.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1:1 Libya (Pan Arab Games)

Starting XI (4-4-2): Saidawi ©, Harbi, Dheeb, Al-Masri, Fares, Zatara, Khader Yousef, Ismail, Nu’man; Salem, Alyan

Substitutions: El-Khatib <-> Nu’man // Abugharqud <-> Salem // Fares <-> Obeid

Goals: Zatara 88'

What it means: Palestine still have a chance to progress to the semifinal round. Jordan’s 0-0 draw with Sudan complicates matters for all in the group. Palestine will need to win by two goals and have other results in the group go their way if they are to progress.

Recap: A much more composed and professional display from Jamal Mahmoud’s men earned them a 1-1 draw against a side ranked 102 places above them. Palestine’s game against Jordan was marked by a lack of discipline and hot headedness. The refereeing in the last game left a lot to be desired but the mark of a good team is one that stays calm and overcomes hardship- Al-Fursan did that today. The first half saw Palestine create a fair share of chances the best was an interchange between Alyan and Zatara that saw the latter flash his shot wide. Alyan also went close but fired his shot straight at the Libyan keeper. Libya would go up a goal five minutes before the break-Khaled Salem lost the ball in the opposing box resulting in a swift counter. Palestine’s defence cut out the immediate danger but Ihaab Boussefi was free on the edge of the box. His shot was well placed, hitting the inside of the post en route to goal. Palestine started the second half by pressing aggressively in search of an equalizer. The approach worked as Ahmed Alwani clattered into Khaled Salem to prevent him from clean through on goal. The referee sent Alwani off and Palestine made the most of their one-man advantage- completely dominating proceedings in the second half. As the seconds ticked away though, it seemed that Libya would improbably hold on. Haitham Dheeb's powerful header somehow stayed out of goal and substitute Ali El-Khatib had a shot blocked off the line. It was not to be. Zatara- who had been excellent throughout- latched on to a ball in the box and expertly placed it behind Samir Aboud.

What I liked: The team's resilience is a reminder as to why Palestine is nicknamed Al-Fedai'e (The Fighters). Things went very wrong tonight but they managed to rebound and get themselves a draw. After a very temperamental performance against Jordan- Palestine went the entire match without collecting a single booking (ed. There was a scuffle between Zatara and Saad- Zatara may have been carded for that it was hard to tell) despite the constant diving and baiting of the Libyan players.

What I didn't like: Palestine need to be more clinical in their finishing. They had more chances tonight and could have won the game. A special mention has to go to those ugly Peak jersey Red with yellow and green trim. It looks like something a waiter would wear in an Asian-themed restaurant. From a functional point of view the solid black numbering makes it very hard to identify the players.

Atef Abu Bilal: He's been the forgotten man under Jamal Mahmoud despite good form with his club side Shabab Al-Dhahrieh. If I were to venture a guess it might have something to do with him shirking defensive responsibilities.

Qualification Scenarios:

1. Jordan 4 points, 4-1 // 2. Sudan 4 points 1-0 // 3. Libya 1 point 1-2 // 4. Palestine 1 point 2-5

Palestine must win by at least 2 goals and hope Jordan wins or draws against Libya. Palestine could progress with Libya winning but would need to make up their -3 goal differential.

What's Next: Palestine face Sudan on Saturday, December 17 at the Al-Rayyan Stadium (remember that place?). Kickoff is at 1430 GMT.

Preview: Palestine vs. Libya (Pan Arab Games)

What: Pan-Arab Games (Group C Match)

When: December 14, 2011 [Today]

Where: Gharafa Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Kick-off: 16.30 GMT

TV: Al-Jazeera Sport // Al-Kass TV

Previous Meetings:

25/8/1999 Palestine 2:2 Libya

Palestine scored the quickest goal in the history of the Pan-Arab Games to take a 1-0 lead through Ibrahim Munasarah. Saeb Jendeya scored his first (and only) international goal deep into injury time. The 40-yard screamer ensured Palestine would qualify for the semifinals of the 1999 Pan Arab Games.

Last Round:

Palestine 1-4 Jordan

Libya 0-1 Sudan

Palestine and Libya suffered similar fates when the teams kicked off Group C on Sunday. Palestine fell victim to a lack of concentration giving up three goals from set pieces despite playing some attractive football in the first half. Libya was organized and defended well against Sudan but a moment of madness allowed Sudan to nick a goal deep in the second half. That goal would prove to be the decider as Libya failed to capitalize on their scoring chances late in the game.

The Opponent: Libya has never been known for its footballing prowess. Its most famous footballer is still Saadi Al-Qadhafi who took nepotism and despotism to another level. With a new flag and new uniforms free of the Qadhafis favorite color Libya managed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations. Manager Marcos Paqueta has fashioned a side that emphasizes organization and defensive stoutness. Libya seem to lack a real poacher in front of goal- the three forwards they called up for their final CAN qualifier had a meager 8 goals in 63 combined caps. That said, this team is more than capable of grinding out a result; In qualifying for CAN 2012, Libya followed the traditional roadmap drawing all their away games and winning all their home ties. Looking ahead, facing Libya might be good preparation for a potential meeting with Korea DPR in the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup.

Reshuffled Line-up: Palestine will be without Ismail Amour and Husam Abu Saleh after they both picked up red cards against Jordan. Ahmed Harbi is expected to take Abu Saleh's place at right back which would leave Mahmoud with a choice of who to play alongside Haitham Dheeb. It could be Mohammed Al-Masri if he has recovered from the injury he picked up in the 1-0 win over Bahrain. If not, the matter gets a little more complicated- he could field Nadim Barghouthi- who joined up with the national team after training camp or he could opt to play Murad Ismail in defence. There could be more changes further up the pitch with Jamal Mahmoud promising to deal with players he deemed as 'complacent'.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I was going to post this as a reply to the Rapid Reaction post below, but I thought it should be here.

That was a bad game. Thats it. You can prepare for months and have the best players at your disposable, at the end its the 90 minutes on the grass that determine the result. Like Bassil, I fumed everytime the commentator said "reserve" side. You can't have 5 starters in all lines and call it a reserve side!

We were beaten by training-camp set pieces - Adnan Hamad does his homework, he knows our two key centre backs are absent - and got hot-headed and collapsed. Though I have to admit, even when the score was 3-1 I still thought we had a chance because the players moved the ball around and constantly created chances. It was overshadowed by the scoreline of course, but there was a positive flow of play. In the last 20 minutes, the players' physical fitness gave way and it slowed down.

Mahmoud has to fix the set-piece problem for the Libya match, they will probably focus on those after seeing our vulnerability. Khaled Salem is in form, and showed he can very much reach the goal. I see no reason why winning tomorrow is not possible.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1:4 Jordan (Pan Arab Games)

Highlights and full match footage available on Football Palestine's YOUTUBE PAGE.

Palestine Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Saidawi (C), Abu Saleh, Harbi, Dheeb, Fares; Kawre', Ismail; Zatara, Nu'man, Obeid; Salem.

Substitutions: Zatara <-> Amour (38') // Salem <-> Alyan (56') // Obeid <-> El-Khatib (74')
Goals: Ashraf Nu'man (34')

Recap: A strange game to say the least. Jordan probably deserved to win this game but the 4-1 scoreline flattered them. The opening stanza of the game saw Jordan have the lion's share of possession but Palestine came close to scoring after Khaled Salem burst through the defence and latched on to Imad Zatara's exquisite lob pass. Jordan's goalkeeper, Lu'ay Amaireh did well to get a piece of the shot but Salem would knock the door again a minute later- this time missing the shot wide to the left. Hussam Abu Saleh also saw a long range effort beat an outstretched Amaireh only for it to hit the post.

Jordan entering their third year under the command of Adnan Hamed showed how comfortable they were imposing their style on a game. The Nashama weren't carving chances from open play but their set pieces were well designed. The difference between the two sides in this area was stark- Palestine have been under Mahmoud's command for a month and they still need to figure out how to mark on corners. They went with a zone scheme today but were far too lax in attacking the ball. Bani Khaled and Abdullah Deeb did not forgive their inexperience in making it 1-0 and 3-0, respectively. That said, Palestine had plenty to complain about on the second goal- Abu Saleh was adjudged to have fouled Ra'ed Nawateer. In reality, it was an innocuous incident- a result of their feet getting tangled up with both players attempting to track an aerial ball. The referee thought differently and gave Abu Saleh a yellow card for his troubles.

Despite the setbacks there were a lot of positives in an attacking first half and it seemed Palestine would have all to play for after Ashraf Nu'man first international goal (although it won't count- more on that later) cut the lead to 3-1. Khaled Salem almost made it 3-2 with an effort that Amaireh was barely palmed away.

The quality of football deteriorated in the second half but Palestine were comfortable and seem to have settled after the chaotic first half. That would change when Abu Saleh picked up his second yellow for a particularly meaty challenge. Palestine's troubles would continue when Ashraf Nu'man decided to get cute in his own box instead of booting the ball into the stands. Hamza Dardour took the ball off of him and gleefully put it past a helpless Abdullah Saidawi. It went from bad to worse when Amour was yellow carded for a non-existent tackle and then sent off for protesting his innocence.

What I liked: The team, playing with a makeshift back line showed a lot of heart and were well organized for the most part: 11 v. 11 in open play Palestine won 1-0. Khaled Salem gets better and better with every single cap and will push Alyan for a starting spot at the Challenge Cup. Despite the loss you get a sense that Mahmoud is building something.

What I didn't like: Set piece marking was atrocious- cameras at halftime caught Saidawi at half time explaining to his teammates that they were allowing the Jordanians too much space. The refereeing left a lot to be desired but that is not an excuse to lose composure. Palestine has had trouble with this in the past- in almost every tournament they play they collect a slew of yellow cards. Mahmoud has to love the fire in some of his players but when it isn't being channelled productively it will continue to hurt the team.

No Reservations: The media kept harping on how Jordan was fielding a reserve (radeef was the word they used repeatedly) side. To say that Jordan was using their 'reserves' is like saying the US played their reserves when they beat Egypt 3-0 in the 2009 Confederations Cup. A reserve team means you are fielding guys who have almost zero experience with the national team. If there was a reserve team out there today it was Palestine- but despite the absences of many a player who participated in World Cup Qualifying (Ramzi Saleh, Abdelatif Bahdari, Majed Abusidu, Omar Jarun, Roberto Bishara, Mohammed Samara, and Houssam Wadi).

Not Official: Jordan, afraid of dropping any points in the FIFA rankings petitioned to have this game not count. So for official purposes Jordan has not beaten Palestine since 2000. What's funny is that if Iraq pick up wins at this tournament- Jordan's grand plan to jump into the third pot for the final round of World Cup qualifying would blow up in their face.

Zatara Sub: Zatara was hauled off in the first half- a curious decision if the player wasn't carrying an injury.

What's Next: Palestine will face Libya (without Abu Saleh or Amour) on Wednesday 1630 GMT.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Pan Arab Games 11

Well I couldn't wait until Saturday to post this. Should do some damage.

football formations

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Bahrain 0 : 1 Palestine (Friendly)

Palestine pulled off a somewhat surprising result in Manama, defeating home side Bahrain in a preparatory friendly for the Pan Arab Games next week.

Jamal Mahmoud started the match with a 4-4-2, instead of the usual 4-5-1 deployed by Palestine, as he put on both strikers Khaled Salem and Eyad Abu Gharqud. The first half was dominated by the Bahraini side as Palestine played out of form. With a little luck and a lot of effort by Abdulla Saidawi (even saved a penalty), the half ended scoreless.

After testing out the two young strikers, Mahmoud elected to keep Khaled Salem in and switch to an attacking 4-5-1, with a midfield spearheaded by Suleiman Obeid, Ismail Amour and Ali Khatib, after Ashraf No'man and Abu Gharqud were pulled out.

The formation change had a profound effect on the flow of the match as Palestine controlled the ball more and started to look dangerous. Khaled Salem was a menace in the air, beating the Bahraini defenders repeatedly, reaching the net in what was judged to be an offside.

In the 66th minute, former Hilal AlQuds star and current free agent, Ali Khatib created a goal out of nothing with a curving shot from 30 yards out that left the Bahraini goalkeeper with no chance.

Bahrain pushed for the equalizer and came very close a few times but ultimately the defense cut out the threats before they materialized. For the last 15 minutes of the game Palestine was playing without a striker as Khaled Salem was substituted for Khader Yousef to bolster the midfield. Of note is Husam Abu Saleh who played an excellent game on the wing, effectively acting as a fourth attacking midfielder at times. It should come as no surprise he was so well positioned, who knows him better than Jamal Mahmoud?

This was a very different Palestine to the one that faced Afghanistan and Thailand in the summer. They were able to hold on to the lead and control the game.

[Edit]: I couldn't identify the player at the time but now I know it was Zatara - put in some nice crosses from the left

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Look at Jawwal's New Ad Campaign

Telecom companies in the region have focused marketing efforts on local sports leagues. Whether its shirt sponsorship of teams or official sponsorship of tournaments, they do so to increase their visibility to their young target market. Jawwal, Palestine's leading telecom provider, followed the regional model in its official sponsorship of the West Bank Professional League. Well, enough marketing lingo, lets have a look at their new ad campaign, which encompasses the Women's game as well as other sports. This comes as Palestine's football, basketball and volleyball teams pack their bags for the Pan Arab Games in Qatar.

(click to enlarge)

"Its not just about winning." - With Attal's recent form, he better hope so.

"The path to the goal is the goal." I admit it took me a while to get that.

Ali El-Khatib, Palestine's promising midfielder.

Toufic Ali: Wadi al Nes and Palestine Olympic goalkeeper - Called up to senior side for Pan Arab Games.

Jawwal presents itself as the "sponsor of Professionals." The campaign has star players delivering the message in colloquial Arabic to the broader audience: Work on achieving ambitious goals. A positive message, which I think is much needed among youth in Palestine, and this is not just from a sports perspective.

The sub-message - winning is not everything - could address fan tensions and unsportsmanlike behavior among players. I just wonder how effective these campaigns are. One thing is for sure, this is the first such campaign seen in Palestine.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Preparations for Pan-Arab Games underway

Al-Fursan in Manama

Jamal Mahmoud and company have been hard at work in the Bahraini capital of Manama getting ready for their first Pan-Arab Games encounter against Jordan next week. The team has been boosted by the arrival of Imad Zatara who should make his first official appearance in five years against Bahrain on Wednesday.

Palestine will have to make due without Mohammed Shbair who injured his hand while training with Shabab Al-Khaleel. As a result, Mahmoud has called up Abdullah Saidawi (Hilal Al-Quds) as his replacement. Saidawi could get the start against Wednesday ahead of Toufic Ali who is seen as a promising but very raw prospect. Ramzi Saleh is expected to join the team in Qatar on December 7th.

Also joining up with the team in Qatar are Murad Alyan (Hilal Al-Quds) and Abdelatif Bahdari (Hajer FC/KSA). This development represents a serious coup for Jamal Mahmoud who can now count on his best defender and forward in the tournament. It also sets him apart from his predecessors who often struggled to get players released from their clubs on non-FIFA match days.

Withdrawal symptoms

As for the competition itself, there has been many a development on that front. This is the first UAFA organized tournament since 2007 and only the second since the (now defunct?) Arab Cup in 2002. It was originally supposed to have a majority of its 22 members participating- 12 teams would compete in three groups of four. Since then, Syria withdrew in protest of sanctions past by the Arab League. Somalia withdrew this week- citing logistical problems. That left the competition with two groups of three and one group of four. The organizers of the tournament have since decided that Group C (Jordan, Palestine, Libya, and Sudan) will send two teams to the semifinals alongside the winners of Groups A and B.

The Opponents

Palestine's only opportunity to gain FIFA ranking points will be against Sudan as Jordan and Libya have petitioned not to have the games count towards the FIFA ranking. According to our friend, Edgar, Jordan did this so not to harm their chances of getting a better seeding for the fourth round of Asian Would Cup qualifying. Interestingly enough, Iraq- their principal rival in the chase for seeding- has elected to have their matches against Bahrain and Qatar count towards the FIFA ranking.

Jordan have sent what has been labelled as a 'reserve squad'. They will be without the services of starting GK Amr Shafie as well as Amr Deeb, Hatem Aqel, Bassem Fathi, Bashar Bani Yaseen, Shadi Abuhashhash, and Ahmed Hayel. That said, Hassan Abdelfattah, Anas Bani Yasseen, Khalil Bani Attieh, and Abdullah Deeb are included in the squad and all have started during Jordan's World Cup qualifying campaign.

Adnan Hamed hasn't gone to his bench or altered his formation during the successful campaign. With Round Four rapidly approaching, Hamed needs to find depth in his squad and develop viable a plan B on the pitch. Expect a lot of tinkering from Jordan (although they should progress).

Sudan, who are currently participating in the CECAFA Cup will send their Olympic side as will Libya.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2012 Challenge Cup Draw

The draw for the 2012 Challenge Cup was held today and lady luck has smiled on Palestine placing it in Group A alongside hosts Nepal, 2010 Finalists Turkmenistan, and the Maldives.

It will be a trickier proposition for teams in Group B which includes 2010 winners Korea DPR, 2008 winners India, 2006 winners (and perennial semifinalist) Tajikistan, and an improving Philippines side.

The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals. Palestine will face Nepal on March 8th, Turkmenistan on March 1oth, and the Maldives on March 12th. Players will start with a clean disciplinary slate but Abdelatif Bahdari and Ismail Amour will not be available against Nepal after picking up two yellows in the qualifying round.

Palestine will be facing off against Turkmenistan and The Maldives for the first time in its history. The team has one meeting against Nepal- a 0-0 draw in Kathmandu in 2009- during 2010 Challenge Cup qualifying.

Palestine's best showing in this tournament came in 2006 when they advanced to the quarterfinals of the original 16-team tournament. Al-Fursan were the top scorers in that tournament behind Fahed Attal's 8 goals, which earned him the Golden Boot. Palestine withdrew from qualifying in 2008 when the team was refused exit visas by Israeli authorities. They reentered 2010 qualifying, earning two draws but were eliminated by virtue of an inferior goals scored record.

Turkmenistan and Maldives are developing associations participating in the Challenge Cup. Although the AFC has classified this tournament for emerging associations India, Maldives, Myanmar, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan (developing associations) as well as Korea DPR (a developed association) have all been allowed to participate.

The winner of this tournament will advance directly to the 2015 Asian Cup which will be held in Australia.