Recap: Palestine achieve first ever come from behind victory to win Group A on 7 points. Murad Alyan scored the equalizer and the clincher and Ahmed Harbi got the second. Philippines thrashed Bangladesh 3-0 to advance in second place on 5 points.
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Shbair; Hijazi, Bahdari, Mahdi, Harbi (Abu Saleh 75′); Wadi, Youssef; Amour (Jebreen 85′), Obeid, Nu’man (Abu Belal 75′); Alyan
Goals: Alyan 40′, 90′ Harbi 72′
The game started off with Palestine nearly opening the scoring in the first five minutes through midfielder Houssam Wadi. In the sixth minute, Ahmed Harbi was fouled in the box but his cries for a penalty were ignored by the Bahraini referee. Ashraf Nu’man then saw his powerful shot sail a few inches wide of the goal.
Despite the early dominance, Palestine found themselves a goal down in the 25th minute after a defensive breakdown forced Abdelatif Bahdari into a risky challenge inside the area. The referee whistled for a penalty and carded the Wehdat defender. Aung made no mistake, sending Mohammed Shbair the wrong way as he slotted in the right corner. Palestine approached the game with added intensity with Ismail Amour picking up a yellow for dissent after Harbi had fallen victim to a particularly nasty challenge. Five minutes before the end of the half, Murad Alyan’s headed goal put Palestine level. It was Dado’s third goal in as many games and he nearly struck againg the dying minutes of the first half only to see his header flash wide of the post.
The second half saw a more cautious approach from Al-Fursan. With the halftime score in the other game 1-0 to the Philippines, Palestine were still poised to finish first in Group A. With Myanmar desperate for goals and Palestine desperate to hold on the opening 25 minutes of the second half saw three yellow cards doled out to Htwe and Ashraf Nu’man.
Palestine would break the deadlock on 72 minutes when Al-Am’ary left back Ahmed Harbi’s mazy run past several defenders was cooly finished off. The goal assured Palestine would win Group A after Ángel Guirado’s had put Philippines temporarily top of the group with his 55th minute goal against Bangladesh.
Bezaz went to his bench after the second goal, electing to put in the more defensive Hussam Abu Saleh in place of Ahmed Harbi and also pulling Nu’man and Amour, who had already been cautioned, for Abu Belal and Jebreen. Palestine were looking very comfortable and despite sitting back were still creating chances. Sulieman Obeid went close in the 84th minute before Murad “Dado” Alyan capped off a fantastic night in injury time with his second goal and his fourth in only three games with the national team.
What it Means: Palestine win Group A with 7 points to their name. Philippines finish as runner-up on 5 points after destroying Bangladesh 3-0. Palestine will be joined next year in a yet to be confirmed location by 7 other teams- the aforementioned Azkals, India, Maldives, Turkmenistan, Tajikstan, and two Group D (Korea DPR, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan) teams.
Positives: There are many to chose from. Ahmed Harbi made a statement and played a fantastic game. Despite his defensive frailties he looks to be good option at left back when playing against teams of equal or lesser caliber. His performance against Iraq, where he was complicit in two of the three goals allowed was rock bottom for him, for him to rebound is such a great achievement. There’s also the fact that this is Palestine’s first ever come from behind win since joining FIFA in 1998. It shows the maturation of the team and give the players much needed confidence heading into 2014 World Cup Qualifying.
Negatives: I’m not going to criticize anyone. I’ve had my problems with Bezaz’s squad selection and I don’t think this qualification campaign was flawless by any means. But, it should be put into perspective: We went winless for 59 months and we now have two wins in the space of five days. This was accomplished without the presence of Ramzi Saleh, Omar Jarun, Majed Abusidu, Shareef Adnan, Roberto Bishara, Fahed Attal, Ahmed Keshkesh, Imad Zatara, and essentially every other professional player based abroad you can think of. It’s not that I think that all the players plying their trade in Palestine are inferior, it’s just that they lack proper training methods at their clubs. Without a proper training camp and friendlies these players will struggle at the international level. The month long training camp organized by Bezaz helped to address these issues. So well done to Bezaz and all the players.
Player of the Tournament: It has to go to Murad Alyan. The man Bezaz said there was no point in calling up because we had Keshkesh and Attal and because he thought he wasa 35 (he was only 32 at the time) years old. Four goals in three games makes Alyan the 6th highest scorer in Palestine’s history behind Al-Kord (15), Attal (12), Al-Jeish (5), Keshkesh (5), and Lafi (5). To think what we could have done with him if we had him during his prime. He went for years banging in goals left and right in the Israel’s lower leagues but he never really got his chance. I’m very happy for his success… and I think we need to start actively scouting talent in the Israeli league to bolster our squad.
What’s Next: The friendly against Kuwait has been cancelled by the Kuwaitis. Our next friendly matches are rumored to be in May against Pakistan in Palestine. Keep an eye out for the 2014 World Cup draw on March 30th.