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Palestine and Oman both clinched qualification for Asia’s big dance on October 10th, 2017 rendering the last two qualifying games a formality.
On the penultimate match day, Palestine ran out 8-1 winners vs. Maldives while Oman survived an altitude induced scare in Bhutan after the hosts equalized in the 59th minute of their 2-4 victory.
Despite the low stakes, both teams will be looking to top the group and improve their seeding ahead of the AFC Asian Cup finals draw.
While we might see a new face or two expect both sides to field teams similar to those that met last June.
Julio Baldivieso has shown a preference to stick with the players he had in camp for nearly 40 days and so the partnership of Dheeb and Bahdari- a crucible of the team’s rise over the last four years might not be deployed. As it did against Bahrain and Algeria- the back line should feature Al-Battat, Saleh, Bahdari, and Jaber.
The only questions about Palestine’s starting lineup are in attack. Baldivieso experimented with what amounted to a defensive 4-3-3 against Bahrain but the team could not create anything centrally. In his first start, Mohammed Balah struggled to get involved for most of the match. In one crucial passage of play the Gazan chose to keep the ball and shoot speculatively instead of releasing Abdallah Jaber on his left hand side during a counter attack.
Of all the players who started on Tuesday, Balah is most likely to lose his starting spot (with Mahmoud Eid being the likely replacement) next in line is Mohammed Yameen but benching him would necessitate a change in formation. Ahmad Awad should logically start this game, in his best position, as a #10. It remains to be seen whether Baldivieso is willing to tinker or experiment in his first real game in charge.
FIFA Ranking Update
Most Palestinian fans have spent the past month preoccupied with their FIFA ranking in the hopes that they could climb further up the table and ensure a place in Pot 1 of the AFC Asian Cup draw.
Last week’s draw against Bahrain nearly scuppered that chance but thanks to a handful of results from around the continent, Palestine is still in with a chance.
Here’s what the Pots look like (teams with fixed position in bold) heading into the last round of Asian Cup qualifiers:
Palestine are virtually assured of a place in Pot 2. The only scenario that could see the drop to Pot 3 would be a loss in their final qualifier combined with:
- A winner in the Kyrgyzstan – India match AND
- Lebanon win over Malaysia AND
- Vietnam win over Jordan AND
- Uzbekistan friendly win over Morocco
Even if all the scenarios Palestine could eek out the last position in Pot 2 as both Al-Fida’i and Vietnam would have 401 points.
Only two sides can replace China in Pot 1. Saudi Arabia and Palestine. Saudi Arabia can only guarantee a place in Pot 1 by beating Belgium on Tuesday. Anything less than a victory opens up the door for Palestine to leapfrog both teams in the April FIFA Ranking.
For their part, Oman will be hoping three points could translate into a position in Pot 2 but for that to happen the following would also need to take place:
- A draw in the Kyrgyzstan – India match AND
- Lebanon loss or draw vs. Malaysia OR
- Iraq friendly loss or draw vs. Syria OR
- Uzbekistan friendly loss vs. Morocco
The biggest shock from the Oman camp has been Pim Verbeek’s decision to drop goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi. The Oman captain has represented his country over 100 times and led them to four Asian Cup qualifications (2004, 2007, 2015, & 2019) and the 2009 Gulf Cup.
There have been signs that the goalkeeper might be slowing down, he spent much of the first half of the domestic season on the bench for Al-Hilal Riyadh and only kept a clean sheet in one of the four Asian Cup qualifying games he started.
His former deputy, Fayiz Al-Rashidi, has been in fantastic form and was a big reason why Oman lifted their second Gulf Cup title in January. The Al-Suwaiq goalkeeper kept four clean sheets in five games and came up with big saves in the penalty shootout vs. UAE in the tournament’s final.
Verbeek has a good deal of capital now to make such a bold choice and seems to be planning for a longer stay in the Sultanate. Six players in Verbeek’s squad ply their trade outside Oman; Ahmed Mubarak and Nader Awadh play in Qatar’s second division, Saeed Al-Zureyqi plays in Kuwait for Al-Arabi, and Mohammed Al-Muslami plays for Abu Dhabi’s Al-Jazira.
Saad Suhail (Al-Nasr) and Mohsin Jawhar (Ohod) earned moves to the Saudi Premier League following Oman’s shock Gulf Cup win.
Bahdari nears 50-mark
Last week, Palestine captain became the oldest player to play for the national team and should he play against Oman he’ll be only the fourth ever player to reach 50 caps for Palestine joining the likes of Ramzi Saleh (68), Khader Yousef (64), & Saeb Jendeya (58).