Palestine Starting XI (4-5-1): Toufic Ali; Raed Fares, Haitham Deeb, Khaled Mahdi, Hani Naboulse, Husam Abu Saleh, Khader Yousef (C), Musa Abu Jazar, Amjad Zidan, Abdelhamid Abuhabib; Eyad Abugharqud
Syria Starting XI (4-4-2): Mosab Balhous; Abd El-Nasser Hassan, Ahmad Al-Salih, Ahmad Kalasi, Taha Diyab (Khaled Mubyid), Samer Awad, Qusay Habib (Mardik Mardikian), Mahmoud Khaduj, Mohammed Al-Mawas, Uday Jafal, Ahmad Al-Douni (Mohammed Fares)
Substitutions: Nadim Barghouthi <-> Amjad Zidan 45′ // Raed Fares <-> Ahmed Salameh 51′ // Abdelhamid Abuhabib <-> Ma’ly Kawre’ 60′ // Eyad Abugharqud <-> Khaldoun Al-Halman 65′ // Hani Naboulse <-> Mahmoud ‘Al-Koori’ Salah 70′->->->->->
Goals: Musa Abujazar 50′ (PLE), Ahmad Al-Douni 53′ (SYR)
Cautions: Nadim Barghouthi
Recap: In a deserted Amman International Stadium, Palestine met Syria in a pre-WAFF Championship tune-up that produced some good football. Before kick-off, the teams shared a ceremonial group picture and held a moment of silence for those who recently lost their lives in Gaza (and presumably Syria as well). Overall, this match was not unlike most matches involving West Asian opponents. The teams were well matched and there were spells of dominance for either side which eventually gave way to a frantic final 10 minutes as both teams searched for a winner.
Palestine lined up in a 4-4-1-1 as Khader Yousef captained the side for the first time, earning his 36th cap for Palestine. The skipper played a key role in breaking up Syria’s attacks and was often the incubator of Palestine’s counterattacks. On the basis of this performance it comes as no surprise that the Wadi Al-Nes midfielder is one of the most capped players in the current pool. Husam Abu Saleh was also a dominant force over the 90 minutes covering a lot of ground and acting as a constant nuisance on Syria’s left flank. Freed from defensive work the Sakhnin native is absolutely lethal and was one of the best players out there.
Palestine was the better team for the first part of the first half and should have taken the lead when Abdelhamid Abuhabib unlocked Syria’s defence with a weighted pass to the speedy Eyad Abugharqud. The Shabab Al-Khaleel striker attempted to place his shot in the bottom right corner, but missed just wide.
With Palestine looking comfortable, Syria woke up and ended the first half with the upper hand. A ball played across the face of Toufic Ali’s goal went begging in the 28th minute but it was a sign of things to come from the Qasioun Eagles. Syria’s number 11 was free down the right and his cross resulted in a free header that went begging. Five minutes later, the Syrians thought they had taken the lead, a ricocheted shot went off the inside off the post and Ahmad Douni put in the back of the net but he was rightly ruled offsides.
In the second half, Palestine took the lead with a fantastic goal courtesy of Musa Abujazar who took up Amjad Zidan’s position on the left flank. At the edge of the box he unleashed a rasping, curving shot that hit the upper 90. Palestine weren’t celebrating for long as Ahmad Douni found his way behind Palestine’s defence, and unlike Abugharqud, made no mistake from nearly the same spot on the pitch. Palestine’s fluidity decreased as Mahmoud made use of all his subs, that said, there were plenty of opportunities for Palestine to grab a winner. Musa Abujazr nearly bagged his brace but Mosab Balhous saved and the follow up cross for Eyad Abugharqud went over the bar.
With Syria enjoying more possession, Palestine had two more chances in the final ten minutes. The first was on a counter by Khader Yousef who found himself free on a counter. He decided to chip Balhous from 25 yards out but his shot went over the bar. Khaldoun Al-Halman showcased excellent control when, in between three defenders, he settled the ball on his left foot and had a go with his right, only to see his shot narrowly go over the bar.
Man of the Match: There were a lot of good performances but you would have to give it to the goalscorer, Abu Jazar. His multidimensional ability was put to good use tonight; excellent in defence and attack.
What I liked: This match marked Jamal Mahmoud’s one year anniversary with the national team and he has stamped his identity on the team. No longer are teams exploiting a flat midfield and an even flatter back line. Instead, tactical wrinkles have given players like Khader Yousef and Husam Abu Saleh new leases on life. His inclusions of Abuhabib, Haitham Deeb, Raed Fares, Khaldoun Al-Halman have been vindicated and in Hani Naboulse he has a multidimensional full-back who will only get better in the years to come.
What I didn’t like: Giving up an equalizer so early shows that the team still has room to grow. Although Abugharqud did a good job stretching the Syrian defence with his speed, his finishing touch let him down tonight.
Random Observations: Being on the sideline, I got a bit of insight into what this team is like. Jamal Mahmoud’s intensity is infectious and every so often his sense of humor seeps through. I especially enjoyed when told everybody on the bench to shut up- it got pretty quiet after that. Regardless of the results they produce on the pitch, fans should be proud of how this teams carries itself. There are no egos and everybody gets along with another. Despite not playing a single minute, Mohammed Shbair had a smile on his face the entire time and went through his paces on the sideline to remain fresh in case he was called upon.
Fahed Attal was still recovering from injury and snuck a potato chip from one of the staff members but he made it clear that he wouldn’t be playing tonight.
What’s Next: These teams meet again on November 20th on the outskirts of Amman in Zarqa. Syria only used three substitutes so look for them to field a completely different lineup.