2018 AFC U23 Championship: Palestine’s comeback falls short vs. Qatar

Dabbagh (C) was front and center for Palestine on Friday night.

Recap: Palestine’s first ever quarterfinal at an continental tournament lived up to the hype. The first half encompassed Palestine’s naivety while the final 30 minutes showcased Palestine’s bright future. 

Oday Dabagh striking just over the bar in the first minute showed that Palestine could cause problems for the more experienced Qataris.

The first half however, would encapsulate Palestine’s defensive frailties. Al-Moez Ali latched on to a lasered pass from Basem Al-Rawi, splitting both centerbacks to tap home past a poorly positioned Ramzi Al-Fakhouri.

Things would go from bad to worse as the tournament’s top scorer doubled Al-Annabi’s lead with a predatory finish after being left completely unmarked.

It was a harsh outcome after the first half featured several displays of attacking intent from Palestine, but one that spoke volumes as to the gulf of experience between the two sides.

Oday Dabbagh and his compatriots refused to quit in the second half- another defensive mistake from Saado Abdel Salam led to Qatar’s third but Palestine were back in the match at the hour mark. The Hilal Al-Quds wunderkind finishing off a great weighted ball from Mahmoud Abu Warda to hand Palestine a lifeline.

From that point on, Palestine put Qatar under heavy pressure. Pressuring higher up the pitch played to both centerbacks’ strengths and alleviated the attacking threat of Al-Annabi. 

Less than a minute later, the Qatari keeper had to rush out from his area to clear the danger of an onrushing Dabbagh. The 19-year old was back at it again shay-shaying his way past the keeper only for the ball to bounce from his reach with the net at his mercy. His laid back pass to Mahmoud Yousef was put over the bar- in a sequence of events that should have seen the score line reduce Qatar’s lead to a single goal.

Al-Bakari was called into action again in the 75th minute-  rushing off his line and out of the box to deny Mohammed Darwish. He denied Dabbagh once again moments later from close range with his save deflecting off the crossbar and into the path of Mahmoud Yousef who once again fired wide.

An unjust second booking handed to Mohammed Basim reduced Palestine to 10 men but it did not dampen the efforts or the spirit of the young Fida’i. Mohammed Darwish would test Al-Bakri in the 85th minute only to be denied by an excellent save from the Al-Duhail shot stopper.

That same sequence of play resulted in a Palestine free kick, and this time, the Arminia Hannover man would not be denied. Darwish’s second goal of the tournament meant that the game was there for the taking with five minutes to play.

The storybook finish was unfortunately not to be. Qatar did just enough to hold onto their lead with Al-Bakari making yet another save as time ran out on Palestine’s cinderella story.

What I liked: A great fight back shows that Palestine has some lovely attacking pieces to build around. 
What I didn’t like: Qatar were not made to work for their 3-0 lead. That bitter feeling will leave the team thinking about what could have been if concentration levels were better at critical junctures of the game. 
Bad Call: Mohammed Bassim’s sending off was erroneous, he didn’t even make contact with Ahmad Moein whilst clearing the ball. Sri Lankan referee H. Dilan Perera has a reputation for brandishing cards but this was objectively a botched call. Asia needs better referees. 
What’s Next: Palestine will be able to return 11 players for the 2020 edition which will also act as Olympic qualifiers. That includes right back Musa Firawi, centerback duo Michel Termanini and Saado Abdel Salam. Mohamed El-Kayed will be back to pull the strings in midfield. While the full complement of attacking options (Mohammed Darwish, Shihab Qombor, Oday Dabbagh, Mahmoud Yousef, Mohammed Obeid) can also be utilized in an effort to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 
Who Can Step Up? No shortage of players should be confident of taking the next step with the senior team. The most consistent contributors were Oday Dabbagh (3G, 1A), Mohamad Darwish (2G, 2A), and Mohammed Bassim (1 Assist). Do not count out Michel Termanini and Saado Abdel Salam either- they made their fair share of mistakes but the positives outweigh the negatives- especially with Termanini. Palestine should fully expect six to seven players in this side to become solid national team contributors in the future. 

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