|Palestine celebrate another epic win over Malaysia|
Palestine Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Toufic Ali; Alexis Norambuena, Haitham Dheeb, Abdelatif Bahdari, Abdallah Jaber; Jaka Ihbeisheh, Pablo Tamburrini, Khader Yousef, Jonathan Cantillana; Ashraf Nu’man; Ahmed Abu Nahyeh
It wasn’t to be- Jaka Ihbeisheh charged down the right hand side, laid off the ball to Alexis Norambuena whose cross was poorly cleared into the path of Jonathan Cantillana. A perfectly placed finish sent the crowd into raptures. The Palestino midfielder was so elated he ran towards the fans and scaled the barrier. Less than a minute later, Ahmed Abu Nahyeh doubled the lead picking the pocket of a Malaysian defender and made no mistake free on goal.
There was time for another goal before the stroke of halftime- this time off a corner. Abu Nahyeh showing his predatory instincts latched on the end of a ball headed by Dheeb and Bahdari- a true striker’s finish.
The man of the hour would make history just before the hour mark. Becoming the first Palestinian player to score a hat trick in a World Cup qualifier and only the third to do so after Fahed Attal (six goals vs. Guam in the 2006 Challenge Cup) and Ashraf Nu’man (vs. India in 2013). The build up to the goal was truly fantastic as well Cantillana cross found Ashraf Nu’man on the far post, who calmly played it onto Abu Nahyeh.
As it was in the first game, the fourth goal effectively ended the encounter. Malaysia had just forced Toufic Ali into a save moments earlier and for were the better of the two teams for the first ten minutes of the second stanza.
In the games dying minutes, the substitutes got in on the action. Mar’aba ran onto a long ball sent in from Khader Yousef, bursted in the box, and fellow substitute Tamer Seyam made sure that there was no follow up save.
Ashraf Nu’man- who did well in this game as a creator- crossed from the left hand side for Matías Jadue who couldn’t quite redirect the ball on target. It fell kindly to fan favorite Jaka Ihbeisheh whose first time finish put a bow on an exciting evening of football.
What I liked: Palestine knew they needed to attack from the get go and Barakat sent them out to do just that. It took a while, but Palestine secured another big win that could help them qualify for the final stage somewhere down the road.
What I didn’t like: This was as complete a performance you could ask to see. Toufic Ali has another clean sheet to his name and has made the saves asked of him but he strikes me as a little awkward. Why does he always fall on the ball after routine saves?
Man of the Match: A tough one to pick as several players out there had their best game in a Palestine shirt. The three top performers on the day were Jonathan Cantillana, Jaka Ihbeisheh, and Ahmed Abu Nahyeh. The game ball has to go Abu Nahyeh who brings a much needed element to Palestine’s attack- the ability to create his own chances. To put it simply he blew the game wide open and he ran the Malaysian defenders ragged. To think he wasn’t even on any of our radars a couple of months ago.
Fans: A lot of credit has to be given to all of the Palestinians that made it to both games at awkward times during the week (4 PM on a workday). They helped lift the players and the drama with the Saudi Football Federation became an afterthought once Al-Fid’ai walked onto that pitch. This truly was like playing at home, non-stop singing throughout the match and brilliant displays of national pride.
What’s Next: Palestine face a do or die match vs. UAE in Abu Dhabi four months from now on March 24th, 2016. Later on this month, they should hear the result of their appeal against Timor Leste. Should Palestine be awarded the win their chances at qualifying for the final stage of qualifying would receive a massive boost. Without the two additional points Palestine would need to win out (Timor Leste is the other remaining opponent) and hope the UAE drops points against either Malaysia on Tuesday or Saudi Arabia in March. Palestine could still mathematically win the group although given the performances of Timor Leste and Malaysia that scenario is highly unlikely.