|Islam Batran celebrates Palestine’s third goal|
Starting XI: Ghanem Mahajneh, Ahmed Al-Sayed, Mohammed Saleh, Yazan Owaiwi, Mahmoud Abu Warda (Mohammed Obeid), Mohammed Darwish, Mohammed Yameen (Omar Sandouqa), Oday Dabagh; Islam Batran; Hamada Maraaba (Namir Agha)
Palestine: Abu Warda 32′, Darwish 37′, Al-Sayed 83′
Turkey: Kayar 20′, Antalyali 37′, Tastemur 45+1′, Celik 88′
Turkey: Celik 90+3′
Palestine: Oday Dabagh 22′, Hamada Maraaba 29′, Islam Batran 33′
Turkey: Hakki Can Aksu 44′, Melih Okutan 63′, Taylan Antalyali 71′, Hakki Can Aksu 81′
Palestine came out swinging knowing full well that only a win could put them in the semifinals of the Islamic Solidarity Games. Manager Ayman Sandouqa fielded the same lineup from Palestine’s first game of the tournament and an 11-minute stanza in the first half saw a flurry of goals.
Oday Dabagh opened the scoring- collecting and finishing a ball played by Mahmoud Abu Warda.
The strike took the youngest player in the tournament to top of the goal scoring leaderboard. At the time of writing three players on two goals- Algeria’s Farid Al-Melali and the Omani duo of Al-Ghassani and Marwan Awlad Wadi- are in pole position to overtake him.
The Hilal Al-Quds player has been the revelation of the tournament. At just 18 years old- he is nearly two years younger than the next youngest player at the tournament. Increasingly, the nine goal tally that helped crown Hilal as champions this year and the three goal haul that saved them from relegation last year, look to be no fluke.
One minute after the opener, Hamada Maraaba fluffed his lines after being put through with only the goalkeeper to beat. Redemption, however, would be forthcoming. On 29 minutes a Mohammed Yameen pass sprung Maraaba free- and this time he finished with the aplomb of a striker who has secured his league’s golden boot in back-to-back seasons.
In the 33rd minute- Oday Dabagh wrestled possession off a Turkish player raced down the wing and passed to Maraaba who laid off the ball for Islam Batran to make it 3-0.
The good news would end there for Palestine. A goal after a poorly covered corner made it 3-1 just before halftime.
That goal gave a glimmer of hope to the European side. The second half proved to be a very different affair. The centreback pairing of Yazan Owaiwi and Mohammed Saleh did very little cover themselves in glory on the second and third goals.
Yazan Owaiwi’s poor header sent Melih Okutan through to make it 3-2. While over pursuit on the part of Mohammed Saleh allowed the Turks to carve apart the heart of Palestine’s defence. Another poorly defended corner condemned Palestine to defeat.
There will be little regret as the result in the Oman-Algeria fixture ended in a 1-1 draw. That said, this result alongside the draw in the first game should serve as (very harsh) lessons for an inexperienced side who must do everything in their power to qualify for the U23 Championship next year.
Palestine, who do not play enough preparatory games across all age levels, were forced to use this tournament to prepare a set of players for the first team and also prepare for the U23 Championship qualifying next year.
Ghanem Mahajneh (b. 1991) was played as Palestine needs to bleed in as many goalkeepers for the senior team. Owaiwi (b. 1994) and Saleh (b. 1993) represent youthful alternatives to the senior team’s cadre of centre backs- who are all over 30.
In the middle of the pitch, it seems there are designs to play Yameen (b. 1994) and Darwish (b. 1992) together at senior level as a replacement to the axis of Darwish-Tamburrini. Other 1994 births include Batran and Hamada Maraaba- players whom, for a multitude of reasons, have not been given a chance with the senior team.
The story of this tournament however will not be the makeup of the squad but of the outstanding performances of Oday Dabagh. Palestine’s hopes in July will rest not only on home field advantage, nor on the abilities of Jordan, Tajikistan, and Bangladesh, but on the form of their youngest player.
If Dabagh can replicate these performances then Palestine will be able to parlay this experience into qualifying for the finals of an AFC youth tournament for the first time in their history.