|Abuhabib celebrates his dramatic winner.|
Palestine Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Ramzi Saleh (C), Fares, Dheeb, Mahdi, Jaber; Ismail, Khader Yousef; Abu Saleh, Musa, Seyam; Musallmeh.
Substitutions: Ashraf Nu’man <-> Musallmeh 51′ // Abuhabib <-> Musa 65′ // Bahdari <-> Abu Saleh 87′ ->->->
Cautions: Dheeb 68′, Jaber 90+1
Goals: Abuhabib 90+6′
Full Match recap after the jump….
Recap: For the second edition in a row, Palestine was given the honor of kicking off the Challenge Cup tournament- with organizers opting to stave off the game featuring the hosts until the evening. This meant Palestine and Kyrgyzstan were left to duke it out in unforgiving temperatures and intense humidity. This game was very even. Kyrgyzstan had a half chance in the opening minutes off a free kick that Ramzi Saleh did well to parry amongst a sea of white shirts. Palestine enarly opened the scoring moments later through Rami Musallmeh who collected a deflected free kick from Hilal Musa only to fire it straight into the arms of Pavel Matiash.
Musallmeh almost latched on to a great Seyam cross halfway through the first but Matiash cut it out before anything could come of it. Musallmeh could have put Palestine up 1-0 from a corner but he couldn’t quite redirect his header properly. The Kyrgyz did an excellent job pressing Palestine but lacked the necessary creativity and speed in the final third to carve out real chances.
The second half saw the early withdrawal of Rami Musallmeh who made way for the experience and attacking guile of Ashraf Nu’man. The Wadi Al-Nes man made an instant impact, latching on to a loose through ball he nearly beat an on rushing Pavel Matiash. Nu’man teed up Khader Yousef who fired straight at Matiash from the edge of the box in the 60th minute.
Seyam was set up nicely by Nu’man on the left flank with Matiash having to pull his best save of the day to deny the debutant.
With the game rapidly coming to a close- the feeling was that the stronger and sharper Kyrgyz team would find a breakthrough. Unfortunately for them they only truly tested Palestine on set pieces and crosses. Captain Ramzi Saleh, much maligned for his weaknesses on crosses, was up to the test today. He made his most important save in the 91st minute. Kechin’s freekick had caused havoc in the box but Ramzi arrived on the scene to punch clear.
Just when it seemed that Palestine would have to settle for a draw Nu’man won a corner and he went to a predetermined set play. Earlier in the half Palestine had tried to find Abuhabib on a short well driven corner but Tetteh had done well to pick up his defensive assignment. With Tetteh no longer on the pitch Abuhabib was inexplicably left wide open.
The Gazan smashed home an epic goal that rattled the crossbar and bounced in. The finish conjured up memories of the goal against Thailand in Olympic qualifying. Against the odds, Palestine managed to snatch the full three points- a result that leaves them in the driver’s seat in Group A.
What I liked: The resiliency of the side was phenomenal. There were FOUR debutants in the starting lineup today. Rami Musallmeh, Tamer Seyam, Abdullah Jaber, and Hilal Musa all looked the part today. The team managed to stick together despite not having played a competitive fixture in nearly five months and executed effectively to neutralize a stubborn Kyrgyzstan side. This is a team that had its preparatory training camp cancelled, could not get on international side to commit to a friendly, had one of its rising talents unlawfully imprisoned, was prevented from calling up Gaza-based players, and has to yet again make due without some of their best players. Yet somehow, someway, they found a way to win.
What I didn’t like: Towards the end of the game it felt that the defence unnecessarily panicked and started hoofing clearances which only allowed the Kyrgyz more opportunities. The inclusion of Bahdari late on was a masterstroke as it helped restore some order to the proceedings.
Man of the Match: Officially, the AFC awarded it to Murad Ismail who had a fine game in the middle of the pitch. The entire team played well- Nu’man and Abuhabib made the difference off the bench but I am going to hand this award to Abdullah Jaber– who expertly defended the left flank and even got involved in a couple of attacks. His performance was so good that he even outshined the more experienced Raed Fares on the opposite flank.
Kyrgyzstan Synopsis: Despite the loss, I think this is the team that will advance out of Group B. Their pressing was excellent and that 2-2 draw against Kuwait four days ago was no fluke. The Kyrgyz are physical side but they are also tactically astute with players overlapping in a dynamic 5-3-2 formation. After watching Myanmar and Maldives play I don’t think either side can cope with their brute strength.
What’s Next: Palestine face Myanmar on Wednesday at 1200 GMT. The White Angels ran out as a surprise 3-2 winners against the Maldives despite playing a man down for nearly 70 minutes.