Rapid Reaction: Palestine 2:0 Azerbaijan (Friendly)

Palestine Starting XI (4-4-2): Toufic Ali (GK); Fares, Harbi, Jarun, Abujazr; Abu Saleh, Kawre’, Khader Youssef, Samara; Nu’man, Attal (C)

Substitutions: Abuhabib <-> Attal // Barghouthi <-> Kawre’ //  Jamal <-> Abu Saleh // Attieh <-> Samara // Wadi <-> Khader Youssef

Goals: Hussam Abu Saleh 40′ // Ashraf Nu’man 78′

First UEFA scalp: In beating Azerbaijan, Palestine beat a European side for the first time in its history and in its first attempt. In his first 3 months in charge Jamal Mahmoud has beaten teams from Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Recap: After a lackluster display against the UAE five days ago, Palestine was badly in need of a calm and composed performance before heading to Nepal for the Challenge Cup. The performance against the men from Odlar Yurdu (The Land of Fire) proved just the tonic. Palestine’s defence, strengthened by the arrival of Omar Jarun were positioned excellently throughout the game. Plestine was also more conscientious in their ball possession- rarely losing it in a dangerous area and hustling to put the Azeri players under pressure. The hard work paid off when Mohammed Samara split the Azeri defence with a fantastic 30-yard pass. Hussam Abu Saleh, cutting in from the right wing, showed great awareness to time his run and round the keeper for the finish.

Things went from bad to worse when Azerbaijan captain Rashad Sadygov was sent off after his second yellow card. He expressed his opinion on the issue as follows: 

“First the [referee gave a foul against] Palestine but then changed the decision”, Rashad Sadikhov said, “I extended my claims to the arbiter for which I received the yellow card. After that I made a movement with the hand and received the second yellow card. The referee was aggressive against our team.”

Despite being down a man, Azerbaijan did not show signs of fatigue. Berti Vogts made a triple substitution at the start of the second half and his team pressed in search of an equalizer. Indeed, Palestine doubled their lead through a quick counter attack that found Ashraf Nu’man in space on the edge of the Azeri goal. The Wadi Al-Nes player’s strike was his second goal in national team colors (his first goal against Jordan in the Pan-Arab Games wasn’t in FIFA’s registry) and vindicated Mahmoud’s decision to play him out of position ahead of Khaled Salem. 

The tempo of the game did not slow down with the second goal as the Azeris continued to search for a consolation goal while Palestine’s subs looked to give a good account of themselves ahead of their Challenge Cup opener against Nepal next week. 

What I really liked: Jamal Mahmoud’s teams haven’t played two bad games in a row. He has a knack for finding the weakness in a team and either masking it or addressing it. I said that the team needed to avoid giving up a goal early, conceding a penalty, and sort out set piece marking. The team met all three objectives and kept a clean sheet to boot. It is also nice to see that Mahmoud reject short term thinking and seems committed into making Toufic Ali the goalkeeper of the future. Ali had his first career clean sheet and made some key interventions- even getting down low for a couple of saves! The team isn’t firing on all cylinders just yet but it is headed in the right direction.

What I liked: Belal Jarun (Abu Omar) is on Twitter and it was a pleasant surprise to see him tweet us during the game (Stop by anytime Abu Omar you’re always welcome!). The AFFA streamed the game on its website which gave all of us fans a way to watch the game despite the fact that no television station elected to air it. The PFA and other smaller FAs should consider going this route.

What I didn’t like: Those horrendous red jerseys are embarrassingly bad. So bad I almost don’t want to be faced with the prospect of lifting the Challenge Cup…. Almost. On a more serious note, there were some pointless long balls booted forward in the first half- evidence that Jamal Mahmoud is still in the process of eviscerating the bad habits of some of his players.

What’s Next: Palestine depart for Nepal on March 3rd ahead of their 2012 Challenge Cup opener against the host nation five days later. 

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