Palestine Starting XI: Rami Hamadi, Musa Farawi, Yaser Hamed Mayor, Abdelatif Bahdari, Abdallah Jaber; Shadi Shaban, Mohammed Darweesh (Mohammed Rashid 74′); Mahmoud Abu Warda (Mohammed Yameen 59′), Oday Dabbagh, Islam Batran; Mohammed Balah (Rami Musalmeh 84′)
Goals: Yaser Hamed Mayor 27′
Cards: Mohammed Darweesh 40′
Recap: In a refreshing change, Palestine took the game to Yemen from the first minute showing an attacking intent that paid dividends in the first half. For their part, Yemen showed they could create a fair amount of danger on the counter as they racked up the first of four first half corner kicks inside the game’s first three minutes.
Following a helter skelter opening stanza, the game settled into a predictable pattern. Yemen ceded possession and frustrated Palestine by quickly collapsing into two banks of four. Al-Fida’i were guilty of impatience at times- booting the ball forwards aimlessly or settling for potshots from distance.
After a penalty shout for handball was waived away 25 minutes into the game. Palestine did find an opener by exhibting the sort of patience that was often missing in the first half. A half cleared corner kick fell for Islam Batran who shimmied his defender with ease. With all the time in the world, the Al-Jazeera winger picked out Abdelatif Bahdari at the far post who headed across of face of goal for the debutat, Hamed Mayor to finish from centimeters out.
The goal calmed nerves on the Palestinian side but a second goal was far from certain as Yemen did not panic and continued to frustrate their opponents effectively.
The second half kicked off with Oday Dabbagh showing some real attacking intent- winning a free kick after being chopped down during a counter. Ten minutes later Mohammed Balah had the goal at his mercy after Salim Awad had failed to collect a cross. The newly signed Al-Saham forward conspired to put his header wide with only a desperate defender on the line to beat.
Palestine had chances to kill the game after that as Oday Dabbagh’s pace and power became more effective as the game wore on. In the 75th minute, after blazing a trail down the left flank he neglected to shoot with his weaker right foot after beating the final defender. The Al-Salmiya attacker then tore up Yemen’s right flank in the dying embers of the game only to see his shot rattle the Yemeni crossbar.
All in all, Palestine managed to get the job done with minimal fuss. Yemen only troubled Palestine from set pieces, most notably a free kick in the 81st minute was parried by Hamadi; the Yemeni drought in front of goal was extended for another game as the Hilal Al-Quds #1 collected his 12th clean sheet in 22 starts for the national team.
What I liked: The three points and the intent from the first whistle to take the game to Yemen. This was only Palestine’s second win and it was a result that lifted them above Lebanon in the tournament’s all-time table.
Yes, detractors will say it was only Yemen- but they were a competent side tonight and I would not be surprised to see them pull an upset against the likes of a weakened Lebanon or Syria side.
What I didn’t like: Playing in Palestine’s backline must be exhausting. Yes, it was nice to see a higher defensive line but there is a seeming insistence against using an offsides trap. In fact, Yemen weren’t whistled offsides in the entire match. With no VAR and a surfeit of horrible referees and linesmen plaguing the game in Asia this might prove to be a good strategy; but the constant retreat means the opposition will have an opportunity to create chances in Palestine’s own half.
Mohammed Balah was a ghost for most of the match and when he did appear he did nothing to disprove the notion that there are a half a dozen strikers ahead of him in the pecking order- Chihadeh, Wadi, Islame, Jadue, Ahumada, and Gattas are all better options- and will be available for selection once the next FIFA window rolls around.
Man of the Match: It has to be Yaser Hamed Mayor who not only got the goal but was also a calming presence in defence. In fact, it was Bahdari who gave a way a dangerous free kick opportunity deep in the second half. The goal was a simple tap in; but a deserved reward for a very mature performance in his first national team appearance- becoming the 17th player to score on his national team debut.
What’s Next: Palestine will face hosts and Group A favorites Iraq on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM Jerusalem time.