What started out well for the Hebronite side ended in complete disaster. Protecting a slender 2-1 advantage, Shabab Al-Khaleel knew that a place at the group stage of the AFC Cup would be theirs if they could defend stoutly.
Their bubble was quickly burst when Al-Suwaiq opened the scoring after Mu’amin Eghbariyeh comically diverted the ball into his own net in the 22nd minute.
Al-Ghassani doubled the scoreline for Al-Suwaiq just before halftime. Eghbariyeh again was found wanting, allowing his mark to float into a dangerous position to receive an uncontested cross.
Fahed Attal came on at halftime and nearly scored for the second game in a row. The captain’s well timed header crashed off the post as Shabab desperately pushed bodies forward in search of an equalizer.
Al-Suwaiq put the match to rest with the third goal off a slick counter. Al-Nofli crowning what was a relatively easy night for the Sultan Cup champions.
Shabab Al-Khaleel threatened again- with a long range effort from Alaa Abu Saleh that hit the woodwork and eluded the on rushing Fahed Attal.
Osama Shaban- perhaps the best player over the two legs- pulled back a consolation goal deep into injury time to make the score 3-1.
The discombobulated Shabab Al-Khaleel didn’t look anything like the team that won the WBPL at a canter last season. In fact a 4-3 aggregate scoreline papers over the cracks. This team had no ideas in attack with Ashraf Nu’man anonymous over the two legs, Pablo Tamburini and Alexis Norambuena mysteriously absent, and Ahmad Abu Nahyeh looks nothing like the player he was last season.
The ambitious Shabab Al-Khaleel project will, and most likely should, be disbanded for something more sustainable. That said, the loss is a painful one for all Palestinian football fans who had hoped to see at least one Palestinian club participating in continental football this season.
Fans can only hope that the eventual 2016/17 champions are able to maintain something close to their current form if only to help Palestine secure more AFC Cup slots going forward.