Palestine Starting XI: Saleh (C); Abu Saleh, Harbi, Mahdi, Abujazr; Wadi (Jamal 35′), Kawre’ (Barghouthi 76′), Khader Youssef, Samara (Nu’man 51′); Abuhabib, Attal.
Goals: Abuhabib (21, 67), Attal (78)
Bookings: Harbi (24), Abujazr (34), Abu Saleh (73), Ramzi Saleh (90+3)
Recap: The Third-Place Playoff. Otherwise known as the I’d rather be somewhere else Championship. In most tournaments these affairs tend to be high scoring, sloppy, thoroughly entertaining affairs that provide great entertainment for the neutral follower. Philippines vs. Palestine fit the bill almost perfectly. Al-Fursan who had been lauded for their organization and defensive stoutness during the Challenge Cup were caught napping repeatedly during the first half. Phil Younghusband opened the scoring inside the first four minutes. Some truly atrocious defending allowed Phil Younghusband to skip past three defenders en route to slipping the ball to Saleh’s left for the opener.
The first goal should have served as a wakeup call, instead it was a harbinger of things to come. Palestine showed flashes of their quality in the final third with their one-two passes at times leaving the Azkals mesmerized. Fahed Attal crashed a shot against the crossbar before his partner, Abdelhamid Abuhabib, equalized with a sublime curving shot from just outside the box. Instead of building on that, Palestine duly conceded a penalty when Ahmed Harbi clumsily bumped into Chieffy Caligdong. Phil Younghusband did not hesitate in making it 2-1.
Mahmoud sensing a shootout sacrificed Houssam Wadi- one of several players having an off-day for Mohammed Jamal. Instead of pulling one back before the half Al-Fursan conceded again- this time it was the industrious Ángel Guirado who blazed down the left wing to make it 3-1. These were not the only chances the Azkals were limited to- Ramzi Saleh had a one-on-one save (against Guirado?) to keep the score at 1-0 and saved a scrambled ball off a corner to keep it 2-1.
Palestine would wake up in the second half- dominating possession in a desperate attempt to get back into the game. Abuhabib made it 3-2 but just when it seemed the comeback would be on the Philippines produced a goal that evidenced their maturation over the past 12 months. Juan Guirado’s run from defence went unchecked and a lovely combination between two of his teammates allowed him to spring a half-hearted offsides trap. To Palestine’s credit they made it a very interesting final 20 minutes. Attal’s 78th minute goal cut the deficit to one- but it was just one too many mistakes for Palestine to overcome.
Negatives: Where to start? Jamal Mahmoud said this was the worst performance in over twelve years, and as far as effort is concerned, you have to agree with him. There was very little evidence of the fighting spirit we have come to know and love. Many of the players were familiar with this team having faced them in the qualifying round last year. Mahmoud had them prepared tactically and it wasn’t like the Filipinos sprung a surprise- they played their normal game. I’ve also noticed a propensity by certain players (Khader Youssef, Ashraf Nu’man, Mohammed Samara) to shoot from distance. It was especially frustrating to see opportunities for a promising pass in the final third only for ridiculous shots to be fired high, wide, and not so handsome.
Positives: Fahed Attal scored again which should put the 70-month barren streak out of his memory. Abdelhamid Abuhabib showed his true class with a brace- I have always seen him as a teraquista but he did well as an out-and-out forward in his first Challenge Cup start.
Azkal Ascendancy: I know it seems that I haven’t given the Azkals enough credit. The Philippines have been great during this tournament and got better with each game. They thoroughly deserve the bronze medal regardless of what sort of team or performance we put out there. The Azkals have come so far in the past year and I hope when our paths cross again both our teams will be better than they are today. A big thanks goes to all the Azkal fans who helped put us over 100 Twitter followers last year and helped us top 600 and 700 this year.