In a sit down with Kooora.com, National Team Manager Jamal Mahmoud reveals that preparation for the AFC Challenge Cup will be different this time around. The coach has also confirmed that two friendly dates with Sri Lanka are set.
Is Palestine aiming to win the WAFF Championship or merely use it as preparation for the Challenge Cup in May 2014?
Jamal Mahmoud: Fortune has not favoured us in previous editions but last year we registered our first win in the tournament against Lebanon. We were hoping to advance out of the groups but were hindered by bad luck and extenuating circumstances. We aim to leave a bigger mark on the tournament this year.
When will the official preparation for the WAFF Championship begin?
JM: We will begin in November. We are in the process of negotiating friendly dates within the FIFA calendar with other FAs but it is not up to us as we need the agreement of a second party. The camp shall be divided into two legs- first starting off in Palestine and with a second leg in a foreign location.
The real work for Palestine begins with the AFC Challenge Cup, when will preparations take place?
JM: The tournament has been moved to May so it can be in accordance with FIFA’s friendly dates that month. We are working on a plan that would see us set up camp abroad and play a series of friendlies against sides from Southeast Asia and maybe against a couple of teams competing in the tournament as well. We feel that this external camp will help us get all the players together in one place. We have since confirmed two friendlies against Sri Lanka.
In its current state, do you feel that the National Team and compete for the WAFF Championship and AFC Challenge Cup?
JM: In general, we are on the right path and the results over the past two years, although maybe not all positive, are indicative that good things will come. We still have a lot of work to do in order to win these titles but North Korea’s absence [from the Challenge Cup] is a boost for us and our players. The remaining teams are evenly matched and luck could favour any one of them. We hope that we won’t be plagued by player absences as winning this tournament would be a dream come true for the Palestinian people.
This past season has seen the return of Ashraf Nu’man, Ismail Amour, and Abdelatif Bahdari to the WBPL. The National Team has struggled with the absence of players based abroad; do you see their returns as a positive?
JM: There are positives and negatives to this trend. The negatives have to do with match fitness and skill level of the WBPL. For example, Bahdari’s level of play was better when he was playing in the Saudi Pro League. The positive is that these players will be available to us at anytime and will make organising training camps and friendlies a lot easier.
I only ask that these players look after their match fitness in order to be ready to preform at a high level with the national team.
How do you rate the performance of the youth teams in recent competitions?
JM: The Uzbekistan result exempted, results have been close and a marked improvement over previous participations. We still need work but I am confident that with more work and more exposure the results will come at this level as well.
The WBPL is in its fourth year, how do you rate its level of play?
JM: The level of play has gradually started to improve. Given that the league is in its fourth year I had expected more and work must be done to reach the desired result. There cannot be a shortage of games that have a lack of tactical onus, quality, or fan attendance.
I would like to say that the doors of the National Team are open to every player and there isn’t a single player whose position is safe. A dip form means a player could lose his place in the team and I challenge all players out there to push themselves in order to earn a place with the national team.