|Haitham Dheeb (L) battles for the ball in Palestine’s 3-2 victory over India (Oct. 2014)|
The much anticipated India-Palestine friendly slated for October 2nd has been cancelled, Football Palestine can confirm. The status of this friendly was thrown into question earlier this month with it being played as an unofficial encounter regarded as a possibility.
The coaching staff had wanted this friendly to further build up its experience in dealing with sides from throughout the continent. Palestine had played West Asian sides in their last three friendly encounters- locking horns with Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain in the past year. Before that, Barakat’s men played a double header against Tajikistan in September and October of 2016.
The India friendly, would have pitted Palestine against the best team from South Asia and a likely 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals participant.
Had the match gone ahead it would have featured the two Asian sides with the longest active undefeated streaks (India have not lost in 11, Palestine in nine).
Palestine have a 100% record in 2017 having won five games- including their three Asian Cup qualifying matches. The last time Al-Fida’i tasted defeat was the 2-0 reverse in Abu Dhabi that ended their dreams of qualifying for Russia 2018.
That run has been part of a meteoric rise under Abdel Nasser Barakat. The team that shipped 11 goals in three games at the 2015 Asian Cup Finals has only allowed 12 in the 17 matches played under Barakat.
For their part, India have made some significant strides under Stephen Constantine. The Englishman got off to a rough start during the World Cup qualifying campaign; suffering seven losses in eight games but has managed to hand 37 players their debut since taking the reins in 2015.
After finishing bottom of its group, India qualified for the group phase with a pair of victories over Laos (7-1 aggregate) to qualify for the Third Round of Asian Cup qualifying. Another two friendly wins saw them land in Pot 2 for the draw.
That position landed them in a manageable group with the likes Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, and Macau. Halfway through, India has a 100% record and the AIFF (All Indian Football Federation) has one eye on landing in an easy group at UAE 2019.
“Friendlies don’t give you too many points. We won the Tri-Nation Cup in Mumbai and beat teams like Mauritius and Macau last month but our ranking will still drop. We are expected to be around 106-107 when rankings are next announced,” one AIFF official told the Times of India.
India’s rise in the ranking was powered by a nine-game win streak (the fifth longest by an Asian side) against many teams ranked in the bottom 50 of the FIFA rankings. Any dropped points in friendlies could come with serious consequences for a side looking to improve its seeding ahead of a major tournament.
The risks of losing this friendly would have similarly impacted Palestine who are on course to reach their highest ever ranking next month.
Palestine’s next game is at home to Bhutan on October 10th.