Preview: Palestine vs. Qatar (2018 AFC U23 Championship)

Palestine train in Changzhou ahead of Qatar encounter

Game Information

What: 2018 U23 AFC Championship (Quarterfinals)
When: January 19th, 2018
Where: Changzhou Stadium, Changzhou, China 
Kickoff: 1:30 PM Jerusalem Time
Streams/TV: Streamed Live on our Facebook Channel. 

Previous Encounters: 
30.12.2017 Qatar 2:3 Palestine (U23 Friendly)
30.09.2015 Qatar 3:0 Palestine (2015 U23 WAFF Championship)

Group Stage Results
Palestine: W🇹🇭  5-1, D🇰🇵  1-1, L🇯🇵  0-1
Qatar: W🇨🇳  2-1, W🇴🇲  1-0, W🇺🇿  1-0

Qatar: Stability & Consistency

As far as the makeup of these two teams is concerned, they could not be more different. Qatar is a side that was here two years ago under the same manager-  Spaniard Felix Sanchez Bas. Of the 23 players that were part of the 2016 tournament, 12 are still with the squad with nine not featuring as they were born before the cut off date of January 1, 1995. 
After a failed World Cup qualification, the QFA gave the reigns of the national team to Sanchéz. At youth level, the Barcelona native has led Qatar to some measure of success. 
He led this same generation to the Asian U19 title in 2014, which led to an appearance at the 2015 U20 World Cup. 

Sanchéz stepped up with the side at the next age level. Qatar nearly qualified for the 2016 Olympics on the strength of their AFC U23 Championship group stage performances and home field advantage. They burned through a group that featured Syria, Iran, and China. Finishing with three wins and averaging three goals a game. 
Al-Annabi overcame DPR Korea in extra time but were knocked out in the dying embers by Korea Republic in the semifinal round. 
The third place game gave Qatar another chance to punch their ticket to Brazil but they threw away an early 1-0 lead; losing to Iraq 2-1 in extra time. 
Two years later, Qatar is back, and they have once again cruised through group play- finding a way to win all three group stage games. 

Palestine: How far can they go?

Palestine are polar opposites to Qatar. This is a team that was cobbled together through 2017- Ayman Sandouqa was plucked from the sidelines of the WBPL in Hebron and given a task to put together and lead a team. 
His first challenge, at the Islamic Solidarity Games, resulted in zero wins and a miserable 4-3 capitulation to Turkey after leading 3-0. 
Robbed of some of the best talents of that squad due to age restrictions, Sandouqa could not field his preferred center backs or midfielders for the qualifying phase of the AFC U23 Championship. The former Ahli and Shabab Al-Khaleel coach watched his team squander a lead twice in a pivotal game against Tajikistan. 
Down 2-0, after 31 minutes to Jordan, it seemed that Palestine would once again fail to qualify for a youth tournament finals. Then something happened. The mother of all comebacks (a 3-2 win) catapulted Palestine into first place in the group and they would not look back- beating Bangladesh 3-0 two days later to seal progression to the first youth tournament finals in Palestine’s history.
Unlike Qatar, Sandouqa took apart that group and brought in fresh blood. Dabbagh, Abu Warda, and Yousef remained as focal points in the attack. Al-Ashab was the only defender to survive the cull. 
The new core of the team has come in and through grit and guile found a way to get better with every game. 
Abdel Salam and Termanini have been adept at sweeping things up in the back. Mohammed Rashid has found a new lease on life just in front of them. El-Kayed’s technical ability and Darwish’s vision has given a platform for Dabbagh, Yousef, and Abu Warda to do what they do best. 
Having beaten Qatar 3-2 in a pre-tournament friendly, this side should feel they can do it again. 
The question for Ayman Sandouqa’s men is if the hunger and focus will remain at the same level. It can be difficult for inexperienced teams to shift their expectations after meeting their initial goals and it will be up to the former political prisoner to get the team mentally prepared for this new phase of the tournament. 

What they Said

In an interview with, Palestine captain Abu Warda was beaming with confidence:
“The mood in the squad is absolutely wonderful, and everyone is happy to have reached the quarter-finals for the first time in Palestine’s history.

“We thank God for this opportunity to put a smile on every Palestinian’s face and to lift Palestine football up amongst the greats of Asia.” 

“Qatar are an excellent team and the game is going to be a difficult one for us,” he said.

“We played and beat Qatar in a friendly match before coming to China, but that does not give us a measure of how good they are because what we see now is totally a different team from the one we played in Doha….

Nevertheless, we are looking to come out of the match with a positive result.” 

Palestine’s manager, Ayman Sandouqa was measured in his comments to the official website of the Asian Football Confederation 

“Of course, this match against Qatar is going to be a difficult one for us,” declared the former Palestine Under-16 and Under-19 coach.

“We have been working hard in the group stage to succeed and we have reached a point where we have been getting better and better. 

“We are going to go into the game in a positive frame of mind and we are looking to get the win and go through.

“We have been taking baby steps to reach this point. The match is going to be a difficult one for both teams. There is not only going to be pressure on Qatar as we are satisfied with what we have done so far, and are looking to progress even further.” 

Felix Sanchéz is not taking Palestine lightly, despite Qatar winning all three of group games and collecting seven points from three games in the qualifying phase. 
“We have every confidence in our ability though, and we will try to play a good game as that is the only way we can get a result.”

“We are going to face a very strong team who had a very good group stage, especially in their last match (against Thailand),” 

 “It really does not matter if you have got nine or six points from the group stage, because it is just one (knockout) game. What matters is now.We know that from now on, each game could well be our last.”

Stats & Shots

Qatar and Palestine are remarkably similar in terms of possession and passing. Neither Qatar nor Palestine have bossed possession against their opponents. 

Qatar lost the possession battle against Oman and Uzbekistan but managed more shots on goal in both games. 

Qatar’s passing and shooting numbers at the end of group play stand at 75.9% (978/1287 passes completed) of which they managed to generate 27 total shots, 11 efforts on goal, and four goals. 

Palestine lost the possession battle in all three of their games but finished group play as top scorers after their sensational first half against Thailand. 

They completed 73.1% of passes (868/1186) but took 37 shots, 17 of them on goal, which resulted in a competition high six goals.

Not only does Palestine lead the tournament in goals scored- they lead the remaining eight teams in total shots (37) and shots on target (17). Only Australia- who have been eliminated recorded more in each category (41 and 20 respectively).

Qatar’s goals are a result of Al-Moez Ali and Akram Afif’s interplay, with the former leading the competition with three of Qatar’s four goals. Palestine’s attack is more varied- with five different players scoring Palestine’s six goals. 

The key for Palestine will be to play with concentration. They had the upper hand against the Koreans in the second game but became alarmingly sloppy in their passing (65% success). To achieve any measure of success, mistakes and mental errors must be eliminated. Al-Fida’i will most likely score on Friday but whether they can keep a clean sheet is another proposition entirely. The side have only managed to do it once in 13 matches under Sandouqa. The quarterfinal stage would be a great time to double that number. 

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