|Shabab Rafah’s players celebrate their first Palestine Cup title.|
It wasn’t pretty, but an undermanned Shabab Rafah side got the job done on Friday battling Ahli Al-Khaleel to a scoreless draw on the grounds of the Dura International Stadium.
The result, combined with a 2-0 victory in Gaza earlier in the week means Shabab Rafah are the first Gazan side to lift the Palestine Cup in this format. Ahli Al-Khaleel dispatched of Ittihad Khan Younes in 2016 and Ittihad Shajeaya a year earlier.
Ahli Al-Khaleel dominated the proceedings of the second leg but despite the lion’s share of possession could not carve out serious goal scoring chances. Ahli Al-Khaleel will need to find a way to reinforce its attack for the upcoming season- the continued absence of Mahmoud Wadi, who is still stuck in Gaza and will likely join Al-Ahli of Amman should he be granted permission to leave, continues to be a major sticking point.
Ahli Al-Khaleel will hope the litany of players that missed this match “for various reasons” will help them content for the WBPL title next month. The Maraaba brothers alongside Mus’ab Battat were key signings, expected to mitigate the departure of Jonathan Cantillana to Egypt’s ENPPI but they have yet to wear the famous red jersey of Ahli.
For Shabab Rafah’s part this title will not give them access to the AFC Cup as the Match Association rankings released in November 2016 will apply to Asian competitions in 2018.
The AFC will release a new set of Match Association Rankings that will apply to cup competitions in 2019 and 2020. With FIFA Rankings now only accounting for 10% of the points on a weighted basis- Palestine’s allocation will most likely remain as is. That means Hilal Al-Quds and future WBPL champions will have to fight for a spot at the group stage vis-a-vis the playoff route.