Preview: Palestine vs. Bhutan (2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier)

Bahdari (R) chases for the ball in Thimphu

Game Information
What: 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier 
When: October 10th, 2017
Where: Dora International Stadium, Dora, Hebron Governante, Palestine 
Kickoff: 5 PM Jerusalem Time
Streams/TV: Streamed Live on our Facebook Channel. 

Previous Encounters: 
Bhutan 0-2 Palestine 

Full preview after the jump… 

Palestine undermanned 

The story of this game? Injuries and absences. Palestine have never had such a wealth of internationally based talent to call upon but injuries and other logistical issues have severely limited those available for selection. 
Let’s start with those who have made the trip. Matías Jadue who has yet to play a competitive match for Port FC due to foreign player registration rules looks set to start up top. While Jonathan Cantillana who played 25 minutes as a sub for ENPPI in Egypt looks set to take back his place in midfield. 
Yashir Pinto is out 3-6 months with a torn Achilles. Kalmar FF forward Mahmoud Eid has been out for a month with muscle problems in the abdominal and groin areas. 
Ahmad Awad, who has been spectacular this season for Dalkurd (8 Goals, 5 Assists in 17 starts) en route to a serious promotion push, has also been ruled out.  The forward, who scored on his debut against Timor Leste in 2016, has been playing under the supervision of team doctors who have been administering pain killers. 
Hosam Aiesh who could have made his debut in this game has also missed his side’s last two games through injury. 
Abdel Nasser Barakat also gave permission to Jaka Ihbeisheh to remain with Police Tero who have a League Cup match on October 11th. 
Some observers are demoralized by the absence of the latter three but it is important to note that these types of conflicts do happen in international football. 
Typically,  a national team has the right to call in a player, run medical tests, and make a call on whether or not the player is fit to play. These types of conflicts do not often escalate to that level with discussions between both coaching staffs and the player the preferred method of arbitration. 
Given the fact that the Bhutan match is far from crucial- you can understand why Awad, Aiesh, and Ihbeisheh have been given a pass. All three are playing critical matches that could determine the trajectory of their careers- Aiesh and Östersunds are aiming to play in Europe again next season, Awad and Dalkurd are gunning for Allsvenskan promotion, and Ihbeisheh is looking to lift a cup while earning an extension on his current contract. 
Fans should expect to see all three back in the fold for the match against Maldives on November 14th. 

How will Bhutan fare? 

If we learned anything over the past two match days its that Bhutan are not the team that was walloped 14-0 by Oman in the opening fixture of Round 3. That said, they will not be able to avail of the familiar surroundings of Thimphu and the altitude to neutralize their opponents. 
In their last match, Bhutan were lucky not to concede early and managed to make it to halftime- Palestine put an end to their hopes six minutes into the second half but the altitude and a host of missed chances meant the game was not over until Bahdari’s spectacular bicycle kick at the end. 
Palestine will have the benefit of experience and home field advantage to draw upon for the rematch. Torsten Spittler said the 14-0 defeat at the hands of Oman was an aberration and Tuesday’s match gives him a chance to prove it. 
For Palestine, the calculus is simple- score early and the second and third goals are bound to come. Fail to do so and the advantage swings to Bhutan who will be playing with absolutely no pressure at all. 
The good news from Palestine’s perspective is that early goals are something of a common occurrence when the national team plays at home. In the six games that featured goals, Palestine has opened the scoring in the first 15 minutes on five occasions. 

Qualification on the horizon 

Palestine and Abdel Nasser’s Barakat’s target two and half years ago was clear: Get back to the Asian Cup. They had to take a more circuitous route to get there- but that was expected following the difficult group they landed in Round 2. 
Palestine can make it official in Dora in front of a home crowd. It’s been relatively drama free in comparison to the 2015 qualifying campaign but that should be seen as a good thing. Put simply, there has never been a better time to be a fan of the Palestine national football team. Just look at the records that have fallen under Barakat and the talent that is streaming in ready to contribute. 
Things are not perfect- but this is a process. Those with a negative disposition would be better served trying to help in any way they can. If Palestine beats Bhutan (or draws combined with an Oman win) they will be the first team to qualify for the Asian Cup from this round- joining the 12 other finalists who booked their place in Round 2. 
DPR Korea and Jordan- even group mates Oman- have more pedigree and are not in the position Palestine are in. 

Expected Starting XI 

Palestine’s 23 man squad.
Not too many changes should be in line for this match. Abdallah Jaber will most likely return at left back- restoring the favored back four of Battat-Dheeb-Bahdari-Jaber. Shadi Shaban could reclaim his place from Mohammed Yameen next to fellow bash brother Mohammed Darwish. 
Jonathan should return to the starting eleven and he should partner with Tamer Seyam on the opposite flank. Oday Dabbagh could be in contention to make his first national team appearance of the bench if the game is settled early. 
The only question marks are in attack. Ahmad Maher could push Sameh Maraaba out of the line up and it remains to be seen which forward will lead the line- Matías Jadue, Khaled Salem, on the uncapped Natour/Yousef. 

Stats and Shots 

  • Palestine can stretch their unbeaten run to 10 matches and make it six straight wins with a win on Tuesday. That is a feat that even Asian Champion Australia has not managed since joining the AFC in 2006. 
  • Palestine’s goal differential is +6-  12 back of Oman who have played 2/3 of their home matches- Palestine will hope this home stand puts them in a position to make up some ground in that department. 
  • Palestine’s 3 point lead- and win on match day 2- could render the talk about goal difference moot. The two sides face each other again on the final match day. 
  • If Bahdari starts, he will become the joint fourth most capped footballer (47) in Palestine history behind only Ramzi Saleh (68), Khader Yousef (64), and Saeb Jendeya (58). 
  • Abdallah Jaber could be in line for his 30th cap. Only 15 other players have made more appearances. 
  • Rami Hamadi can pull even with Abdallah Saidawi for third most clean sheets in national team history (5) trailing only Ramzi Saleh (16) and Toufic Ali (9). 
  • Ahmad Maher could become the fourth player in Palestine national team history to score 10 or more goals if he scores twice. 
  • Palestine is close to Goal #200- They sit on 176 currently (185 if we count the match against N. Mariana Islands which was a Asian Cup qualifier but not an official FIFA match).  

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