Rapid Reaction: Palestine 2:0 Afghanistan (2014 Challenge Cup)

Ashraf Nu’man: Palestine’s talisman once again.

Palestine Starting XI (4-4-1-1):
 Saleh (C); Fares, Bahdari, Jarun, Jaber; Abu Saleh, Murad Ismail, Abu Jazar, Musa; Abuhabib; Nu’man. 

Cautions: Abuhabib 19′, Ashraf Nu’man 73′, Tamer Seyam 82′ 
Substitutions: Tamer Seyam <-> Hilal Musa 65′ // Imad Zatara <-> Ashraf Nu’man 86′ // Ahmed Maher <-> Abu Saleh 90+2′. 

Full Match Info After the Jump….
Recap: A fine display from Al-Fida’i sealed their first ever continental final appearance and leaves them 90 minutes away from punching their tickets to Australia. This was Palestine’s finest game in the tournament thusfar and they did it against a resilient opponent and an in-form goalkeeper. Unlike in previous games, Palestine was far more comfortable in possession and the dynamism of the attack was great to see. Short passes were complemented with overlapping runs- the transition game resulted in a slew of chances and set piece targeting of Abdelatif Bahdari could have broken the deadlock as well. 
Dislocated finger? No biggie.
Unlike in previous games Palestine pressed the opponent in their own half and overloaded the wings in order to exploit space vacated by Afghanistan’s attacking fullbacks. The decision making was crisp as the ball was circulated quickly and its hard to remember either Bahdari or Jarun putting a foot wrong defensively. 
The only blemishes in the first half was Abuhabib electing to fall in the box instead of shooting- an incident that resulted in a deserved yellow card. Musa Abu Jazar also shot straight at the goalkeeper after being sent through- probably shocked that he was THAT wide open.
 Hilal Musa came closest to opening the scoring twice in the opening stanza. A sustained series of corner kicks resulted in Bahdari collecting the ball outside the box, his cross found a diving Musa whose shot was brilliantly parried over the bar by Faqriyar. Moments later an excellent buildup culminated in Musa shooting from outside of the box. His shot knuckled at an inopportune time to sail agonizingly wide of the post. The game was settled by the most active player on the pitch either side of halftime. 
The penalty call will leave some Afghan fans aggrieved but upon further review this was the right call. Ashraf Nu’man was stomped on by Amiri and then when Ashraf bamboozled him again Amiri clumsily swung his leg, missed the ball, and struck the player on the shin. You can argue that this was a soft penalty or that it was sold but it was incredibly clumsy defending in a crucial moment. 
There was no argument with the goal that sealed it, though. A great transition found an accelerating Abuhabib and the Afghan defence chose to scurry back instead of pressing the ball. Abuhabib’s lobbed pass was immaculate- it left Ashraf Nu’man in acres of space and the calm finish took the winds out of Afghanistan’s sails. Try as they might there was no getting past Jarun and Bahdari and Palestine saw the rest of this game out rather comfortably. 
What I liked: The intensity. This was a very crisp performance- one of the best ones in the Jamal Mahmoud era they kept the ball really well and their defending was sublime which the attacking players to fully express themselves. 
What I didn’t like: Two unnecessary yellow cards. I cannot understand why on earth Abuhabib and Ashraf Nu’man chose to go to ground- their insistence on trying to implicate the Afghan players could cost them the game against Japan should Palestine emerge victorious on Friday. They should take Ramzi Saleh as an example- the captain dislocated his finger and was back up in less than a minute after the physio reset it. 
Man of the Match: Ashraf Nu’man. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, although all 14 players who played were superb today. 
Afghanistan Synopsis: This isn’t the last you have heard from this team. Their resiliency is nothing short of commendable and maybe they’ll be left ruing their luck (the bus accident was truly unfortunate) and their inability to beat Laos. Their progression has been truly remarkable and if the Afghan Premier League gains a foothold they can only improve. Hopefully, they’ll be able to host games during the upcoming World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying cycle.  
What’s Next: Palestine take on Philippines in the Challenge Cup Final on Friday, May 30th (1700 GMT) with a place at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on the line.  

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