|Bahdari (C) leads the team through warm-up sessions.
The national team took to the pitch for the first time in 2017 as 27 domestically-based players were summoned for a weekly training session at the Majed Asaad stadium in Al-Bireh.
Amongst the players were some new faces who could make a run at cracking the final squad and perhaps even a starting line up in 2017.
Palestine’s biggest positional battles are at goalkeeper, right back, and centre midfield. The Asian Cup qualifying opener against the Maldives could see new faces in each of those positions
This initial list of 27 players will be whittled down by almost half as a number of Palestinians playing abroad are very much in the running to make the Maldives squad.
The contingent of players in Malaysia, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Sweden, & Chile have enjoyed productive seasons to varying degrees and there is an expectation of at least six out of the nine players making the trip.
The only question marks are whether the staff can coax Carlos Salom back into the fold after a disagreement over travel arrangements during the last friendly. Imad Zatara hasn’t been part of the national team set up since 2015 and at 32 would be the second oldest member of the side (he is eight months younger than Abdelatif Bahdari) but he has been in fine form for Al-Messaimer in the Qatar Gas League.
The final question mark is whether the staff will take all three central attacking midfielders in Ahmad Maher, Ahmad Awad, and Islam Batran- a move that will probably result in Ashraf Nu’man being left out of the squad.
With three spots reserved for goalkeepers and at least six (presumably) being called up from foreign leagues. Only 14 spots remain. That number shrinks further when a further six to eight names in the list are surefire inclusion in any squad.
Below we rate the chances of each training camp member to make the squad
Rami Hamadi- The de facto starter; best goalkeeper in Palestine at the moment.
Toufic Ali- Sure to make the squad, but the former #1 will be relegated to the bench- his experience keeps him in the squad.
ON THE BUBBLE
The battle here is really for the third spot. Ghanem Mahjneh has been a third choice goalkeeper since on an intermittent basis for the last three years. He is currently locked in a battle with Toufic Ali for Shabab Al-Khaleel’s starting position.
Anas Abu Seif, in terms of goals conceded, is having an average season for Shabab Al-Dhahrieh and will really need to shine over the next three weeks to stake a claim.
Abdallah Jaber- Guaranteed to start at LB, one of Palestine’s most consistent players.
Abdelatif Bahdari– Team Captain and surefire starter despite a bizarre transfer to the second division.
Haitham Dheeb– Team vice-captain. Will start vs. Maldives.
Alaa Abu Saleh- Has proven to be good foil for the starting CBs. Versatility makes him an option on the right.
Tamer Salah- Consistent this season with league leaders Hilal Al-Quds. Has his limitations but will most likely be the fourth CB on the roster.
ON THE BUBBLE
Mohammed Saleh- Young and energetic but error prone. His best shot to make the roster as a RB despite the fact that he is more of a center back by trade.
Mus’ab Battat- Fast and talented his positioning on the right flank lets him down. His experience might give him an edge over the competition.
Will most likely make the trip to Maldives as Abdallah Jaber’s backup
Yahya Hareeb, Ahmad Al-Sayyed- Two players ostensibly included to gain experience. Al-Sayyed has been a solid right back for Hilal Al-Quds this season but starts camp behind 3-4 players on the depth chart.
Mohammed Darwish- Will start as he has for every qualifier he has been eligible to play in.
Tamer Seyam- Best WBPL player an on course to win back-to-back titles with two different teams. Has inside track to start on the left.
Mohammed Yameen- Showed ability to make the step up in starts against Morocco B and Palestino.
ON THE BUBBLE
Jonathan Cantillana- A consistent performer for the national team although his match fitness is in doubt. Might have given himself an edge with the winning goal against Thaqafi last weekend.
Sameh Maraba- Pedestrian performances with the national team over the past year will not guarantee him a role in upcoming matches. The only attacking player in this group not to score last weekend.
Oday Dabbagh- Scorer of eight league goals for Hilal Al-Quds. Only 17 years old, could be kept in the fold to garner experience. Scored last week as well in a 3-0 rout of Taraji Wadi Al-Nes.
Shadi Shaban- Stagnated on the bench with Palestino for the better part of 2016. Seems to have fallen behind Mohammed Yameen in the pecking order.
Mohammed Natour- First time call up after a good spell with Merkaz Tulkarem/Ahli Al-Khaleel
Hani Abdullah- The youngster is here solely for experience
Mahmoud Abu Warda- Young (21) but faces an uphill battle to make the squad. Ahmed Maher, Islam Batran, and Ahmad Awad are more experienced than the Balata playmaker.
ON THE BUBBLE
Ahmed Abu Nahyeh- Out of form for Shabab Al-Khaleel. His chances of making the squad hinge on whether Carlos Salom accepts a call up after refusing to travel for the friendlies against Lebanon and Morocco B. His spectacular goal last week vs. Shabab Dora might just be enough to get him on the plane.
Inconsistent with Shabab Al-Khaleel. If he does make the squad, he might have to be content with a spot on the bench. Although he was also on the scoresheet last week, his goal came in garbage time and was a result of a horrendous goalkeeping error. Simply put this is not the player who put Palestine on his back in 2014 en route to 2015 Asian Cup qualification.
Football Palestine’s projected final roster
Goalkeepers (3): Rami Hamadi, Toufic Ali, Ghanem Mahajneh
Defenders (8): Abdallah Jaber, Fadi Salbees, Jaka Ihbeisheh, Mohammed Saleh, Alaa Abu Saleh, Abdelatif Bahdari, Haitham Dheeb, Tamer Salah
Midfielders (8): Mohammed Darwish, Mohammed Yameen, Shadi Shaban, Mahmoud Eid, Oday Al-Dabbagh, Ahmed Maher, Islam Batran, Tamer Seyam, Jonathan Cantillana
Forwards (3-4): Yashir Pinto Islame, Matías Jadue, Ahmed Anu Nahyeh or Carlos Salom
Following an argument over travel arrangements, it’s possible that Carlos Salom is included in the squad but doesn’t accept the call-up. This absence will most likely benefit Ahmed Abu Nahyeh.
The other competitions are at right back where Mohammed Saleh and Mus’ab Battat will fight to deputize likely starter Jaka Ihbeisheh. Abdel Nasser Barakat will need to make a choice between old and new in midfield- Ashraf Nu’man and Imad Zatara or the likes of Tamer Seyam, Jonathan Cantillana, Ahmad Awad, Ahmed Maher and Oday Al-Dabbagh. Despite Zatara’s spectacular season in Qatar, I think Barakat might elect to give younger guys a chance and in the same vein that could mean Ashraf Nu’man doesn’t return to the site of his most famous goal.
Ahmad Awad- who hasn’t participated in Dalkurd’s Svenska Cup matches will most likely be an injury scratch for this one.