Palestine Starting XI: Toufic Ali; Husam Abu Saleh, Haytham Dheeb, Khaled Mahdi; Ahmed Salameh; Imad Zatara (C), Mahmoud Sheikhqasem, Murad Ismail, Moussa Abu Jazar; Khaled Salem, Eyad Abugharqud.
Also Participating: Khader Yousef, Suleiman Obeid, Ashraf Nu’man, Fayez Aslieh, Adham Abu Rwais
A little late for a Rapid Reaction piece but I thought there were several positive takeaways from last week’s 2-0 friendly victory over Malaysia.
First and foremost, this team is developing depth just out of pure necessity. Uncooperative clubs combined with a lack of official qualifiers that coincide with FIFA match days means Palestine is often relying on the best available players instead of the best players.
That said, the absence of some creates opportunities for others. Toufic Ali has been afforded a dozen caps at senior level- a raw physical specimen, he never looked quite comfortable playing as a goalkeeper but has grown and learned a lot during Jamal Mahmoud’s tenure. Is he ready to take over from some of the other veterans in the team? Perhaps not, but when his time comes he’ll be ready to seize the opportunity with both hands.
Defensively, Palestine has yet to find viable alternatives to Alexis Norambuena on the left flank but has options at the other positions. In 2013, Khaled Mahdi and Haitham Dheeb formed quite the tandem conceding only two goals in five matches. They may not be as prominent as the likes of Abdelatif Bahdari, Daniel Kabir Mustafá, or Omar Jarun but they have proven just as effective.
Youth & New Personnel
Perhaps the hardest part of running a national team is trying to strike a balance between old and new. Needless to say, experience is very important at this level but sticking with the old guard can be shortsighted. Jamal Mahmoud has slowly integrated Mahmoud ‘Al-Koori’ Sheikhqasem into the side and slowly phased out the likes of Ma’ly Kawre’.
With the lack of an out-and-out striker in the squad, Khaled Salem has been brought into the fold despite the fact that he no longer plays that position with Shabab Al-Dhahrieh. After a solid Challenge Cup campaign and a maiden strike against Malaysia expect the experiment to continue. That said, Saelm could be pushed by new draftees from the Gaza strip, as Jamal Mahmoud is expected to visit soon in order to get a closer look at players.
The great thing about watching Mahmoud’s Palestine is that there is actual thought put into how the side approaches each game. Under previous management, eleven players were randomly thrown out there, told to sit deep and hope for the best. This was acceptable in the early days after re-entry to FIFA but to see the team play that way in 2011 was truly heartbreaking. The talent was there during 2014 World Cup Qualifying, but the team fell short because the style of play was quite simple and relied on individual brilliance instead of team play.
Fast forward 18 months and things are completely different. At one point during the game, the commentator said Palestine were playing with a three-man back line. Now that wasn’t strictly the case but it shows how fluid Mahmoud’s 4-4-2 is. In possession there are overlapping runs, and a will to take the game to the opponent. In defense, calm has been restored as a midfielder (against Malaysia it was often Murad Ismail) drops back to shield the defence, and there’s more of a commitment to pressure from the entire squad.
Defending set pieces is no longer a game of Russian Roulette, and that was on display against Malaysia as Palestine were tested after squandering chances to extend a 1-0 lead. Now, on the other end set piece conversion remains low but Mahmoud still has 12 months to remedy that problem.