Late penalty kick denies Palestine spot at AFC U23 Finals, Olympics

A talented generation of footballers will be denied the chance of appearing at the AFC U23 Championship for the second time running.

A tightly contested affair ended 2-0 in favor of Bahrain with the deciding moment coming after Hani Abdallah lunged at a Bahriani attacker in the 77th minute. The ensuing penalty gave Bahrain a lead they would not relenquish.

The hosts extended their lead in the 88th minute hitting Palestine on a swift counter.

Bahrain’s early pressing forced Palestine’s manager Ayman Sandouqa to recalibrate his set up. Palestine were on the ropes for the opening quarter of the game before settling in for the second half of the first period.

Palestine could have taken the lead after wuthering the storm with Oday Dabbagh shooting wide from inside the area and Musa Firawi hitting the woodwork. 

Shehab Qimbor’s inclusion in the second half helped Palestine’s hold up play but the striker was guilty of missing a gilt edged chance from a corner kick.

As the second half wore on Palestine looked to be in more control; recovering well from what could have been a disastrous start.

Goalkeeper Omar Nifhawi made the saves he needed to make and some spectacular ones as well. It was then a little unfortunate to see Palestine concede a penalty and then lose their cool.

Many will be looking for an individual to blame following this loss, but truth be told the margins between winning and losing were very slim today. (A draw would have triggered a penalty shootout)

The team that qualified for the 2018 tournament had its fair share of luck in qualifying (they hosted their group) and then got a manageable draw to advance to the quarterfinals.

That luck offset the lack of investment and gave Palestine’s talent a platform to shine through. Many of these players had a chance to repeat the feat but several key players could not be properly replaced. The team had no natural left back or defensive midfielder and the #9 position continues to be an issue at youth level.

It could have all been very different today, but it was not be. The most important thing is for those in charge to make sure Palestine’s positive performances are not a one-off but a pattern of continued success.

For now the hope is that this generation of players gets its shot at senior level and that the seeds of this loss can be sewn to reap victories at the full international level. 

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