Rapid Reaction: Palestine 0:0 Saudi Arabia (2018 World Cup Qualifier)

Starting Lineup vs. KSA

Palestine Starting XI: Toufic Ali; Alexis Norambuena, Haitham Deeb, Abdelatif Bahdari (C), Abdallah Jaber; Mohammed Darwish, Pablo Tamburrini; Jonathan Cantillana, Abdelhamid Abuhabib, Sameh Mara’ba; Ashraf Nu’man 

Substitutions: Abdelhamid Abuhabib <--> Tamer Seyam 65′ // Haitham Deeb <--> Tamer Salah 72′ // Jonathan Cantillana <--> Imad Zatara 85′ 

Cautions: None

Full match highlights and more after the jump…


Recap: By all accounts, the first half foreshadowed the result. A cagey and defensive affair, both teams struggled to create clear cut chances. Saudi Arabia’s first shots hardly troubled the lanky Toufic Ali who didn’t have to stretch to make any saves. Palestine got their first chance through Ashraf Nu’man- playing his first game for Al-Fid’ai since January. His shot from outside the box in the sixteenth minute could only be parried by Khaled Sharahili.

Bert van Marwijk was forced into a substitution minutes later; Al-Shahrani’s hamstring pull saw the inclusion of Hassan Mouath at right back. Saudi Arabia’s best chance came on that right hand side with some lax marking leading to Tayseer Jassim finding his way into the box. His shot would have found Al-Sahlawi if not for the intervention of Alexis Norambuena. Minutes later, Toufic Ali had his best save of the half expertly deflecting a dangerous ball in from Hassan Mouath.

It would be Palestine however who would have the final say in the first half. Sameh Mara’ba’s header off a corner delivery from Jonathan Cantillana required Sharahili to pull off a finger tip save to prevent the opening goal.

Palestine carried that momentum into the second half, and for the opening stanza, Saudi Arabia was made to withstand a flurry of Palestinian punches. Two corners and a freekick that amounted to a short corner were won in the first five minutes. In the 53rd minute, Ashraf Nu’man picked off Sharhili’s lazy distributing pass but elected to fire with power at the near post instead of placing it at the far post. It was a play eerily reminiscent of his chance against Iraq in Canberra.

Five minutes later, Tayseer Jassim should have had the opener only for his shot to ping off of Toufic Ali’s post. With 10 minutes to play- Jassim’s poor finishing again rescued Palestine and from there on out it was clear that Palestine would bunker in order to hold on to a well deserved point.

Luck: Any successful qualifying campaign needs a good a dose of luck and in this game it seemed that Palestine’s luck started to turn. Saudi Arabia, for all intense and purposes, have been the luckiest team in the group. The Green Falcons could have easily dropped two points against Palestine, Malaysia, and the UAE but in every game Sahlawi popped up to ensure that maximum points were secured. After Ashraf Nu’man’s missed chance it seemed that Palestine was going to be made to pay for their lack of opportunism. In the second half, though, Lady Luck finally smiled on Palestine. Al-Sahlawi wasn’t a factor and all the chances fell to Tayseer Jassim-  a notoriously horrible finisher who lived up to his reputation.

If Palestine can take care of business against Malaysia on Thursday perhaps a successful appeal against the Timor Leste result will throw them another lifeline.

Al-Fida’i tifo graces the stands of Amman’s International Stadium

What I liked: The Wehdat fans were fantastic and really gave the team an added sense of belief. In a tumultuous week, the team and staff managed to handle external pressures really well. Palestine rode their luck but there was a 15 minute period to start the second half were they played really well. The team responded to adversity when Dheeb had to come off due to injury. Overall, I think this 0-0 result (with the absence of key players in Eid and Jadue) is more impressive than the 0-0 secured at home vs. UAE. Many observers worried about the mental state of the players after all the drama that had ensued.

What I didn’t like: Palestine are getting better under Abdel Nasser Barakat but there is still a lot to be addressed. At times, the team fails to press at the right moment which means that the likes of Dheeb and Bahdari have to overcommit to cut out the danger. I also thought that Abu Nahyeh could have provided some spark in this game and it was disappointing to see him unused.

Bargain: This man is available on a Bosman

Man of the Match: Alexis Norambuena. No chances were created on the right flank and he was tireless in his attempts to try and get up the pitch to support the midfield. In defence, his goal line clearance changed the game and he picked the right times to tuck in and become that third center back. His presence on the goal line in the 60th minute forced Jassim to pick power over placement and kept the score level. It is a mystery as to how this player remains without a club.

What’s Next: Palestine have a quick turnaround before hosting Malaysia on the same ground at 1400 GMT on Thursday, November 12th.

Other Group A Games: 
12/11 UAE v. Timor Leste 14:15 GMT
17/11 Timor Leste v. Saudi Arabia 07:00 GMT
17/11 Malaysia v. UAE 12:45 GMT