The Asian Football Confederation did Hilal Al-Quds no favors. Nor did Asia’s governing body uphold its own decisions in regards to neutral grounds. Al-Nejmeh and Al-Jaish dictated the terms of conduct and that is what Palestine’s reigning champions had to oblige by.
A ten day sojourn in Jeddah, that featured three games, two of which should have been played in Palestine, could have ended Hilal’s journey in the AFC Cup. Instead, it became a platform for unexpected and even defiant results.
Behind closed doors in the cavernous Jewel Stadium of Jeddah and with no television broadcast, Hilal ground out a 0-0 draw against Al-Jaish. The result was a blow to the Syrian side who lost the inside track on first place in the group to Wehdat. Crucially for the Palestinian champions, it gave them a path to the group’s summit.
That path was only possible with a maximum point haul against Al-Nejmeh which Hilal did in the space of three days with two 2-1 score lines.
The nature of the victories however could not have been more different.
On Friday, Hilal cruised to victory with a first half goal from Oday Dabagh in the 38th minute followed up by a Mohamed Yameen tally in the 69th. Al-Nejmeh got a consolation goal with 10 minutes to go but Hilal were able to see out the game without much fuss.
Monday’s game was marked by a slew of missed chances and then a sending off in the 37th minute when Ali Nemeh picked up a second yellow for a tactical foul.
The game seemed to be over and done with in the 55th minute when Al-Nejmeh took the lead but Hilal’s best player on the night- and during this entire AFC Cup campaign had other ideas.
Oday Dabbagh’s speed and physicality could not be contained as he exploited the space behind Al-Nejmeh’s defence twice in the 77th and 92nd minutes. His goals atoning for previous misses on the night.
The result takes Hilal Al-Quds’s tally up to eight points, one point behind Al-Jaish and two points behind leaders Wehdat.
Hilal Al-Quds’s passage to the knockout stage can only be secured with a win against Wehdat on May 14th. Should they achieve that, they will be hoping Al-Nejmeh can take points off of Al-Jeish.
If that scenario doesn’t come to pass, they could still advance as the best runner up provided Al-Jazeera (JOR) beat Al-Kuwait and Al-Ahed (LIB) do not lost to Malkiya (BHR).