Recap: Palestine keep finding ways to lose against Iraq. For those of us who have seen nearly every single game Palestine have played against The Lions of Mesopotamia today’s unfortunate series of events does not come as a surprise. In this game, the 16th edition of Palestine failing to beat Iraq, the script had a few surprises and unexpected turns. Palestine started the game by pressing high up the pitch- and they were rewarded for it after less than two minutes had been played.
Winning the ball in areas high up the pitch allowed Abdallah Jaber to be in a position to pinpoint a cross to Mohammed Yameen who was clumsily challenged from behind by his Iraqi marker. Up stepped Islam Batran to convert and he did just that- scoring his first goal in national team colors.
Palestine were always going to be playing against multiple factors tonight- chief amongst them the searing heat. With less than 72 hours between the games, concentration and fitness were going to be tested and it was unfortunate to see Palestine’s captain turn off in a crucial set piece situation. Iraq had not forced a save from Rami Hamadi but their cleverly taken corner kick was in the back of the net after 22 minutes erasing all the hard work Palestine had done. Credit to Al-Fida’i they continued to battle and find spaces on the counter to keep the Iraqis honest. At times they kept the ball well and played out of pressure situations.
In the 26th minute, Palestine broke and while Balah has done precious little to justify his continued inclusion in this squad he did set up Islam Batran brilliantly with a diagonal through ball. The Al-Jazeera winger did everything right but saw his chip shot ping off the crossbar (although some may claim he should have squared the ball to Mohammed Yameen).
While the statistics will show a higher percentage of shots and more corner kicks in Iraq’s favor- this game was balanced and things only started to change after 60 minutes of play.
Rotations and squad management should have played a bigger role in this game. Instead, it seemed that Ould Ali had his substitutions preprogrammed. He failed to read the game- perhaps preferring to play for a point. That said, nothing changed tactically in response to what Katenac had done. Rami Musalmeh came on for Mohammed Balah and was equally useless.
By the time Yaser Hamed Mayor gave up a penalty for handball it was already obvious that the young defender was going to be punished for his mistakes. His fatigue cancelled out a lot of the good work he did in the first half and the game tape will show he could have been punished for a couple of mistakes before that.
Had the desire been to play for a point- Mohammed Abu Mayala should have come on to help shore up the defence.
Once Hussein Ali converted the spot kick it was practically mission impossible and despite their best efforts Palestine’s attempts to avoid to defeat were thwarted.
What I liked: Things are trending in the right direction and this needs to be a learning moment for all involved. That includes the coaching staff- Palestine are not far away from being serious challengers. The massive gap that existed 10 years ago when these two sides played in Erbil and Baghdad has narrowed significantly. It feels like Palestine could, in the near future, beat Iraq, or Jordan or Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait. The latter three teams aren’t in our group so Palestine will need to be content with beating Syria and Lebanon which would still be a statement of intent.
What I didn’t like: Personally, this game did not need Mohammed Balah. The evidence was there to see that Iraq’s defence struggles with speed and it would have made more sense to play Dabbagh as a #9. Rami Musalmeh also offers precious little and is the latest striker to benefit from his form against abject teams in the domestic league. Yet, he was thrown on and only served to benefit Iraq by losing the ball in his own penalty area in the lead up to Iraq obtaining the game winning penalty call.
This isn’t the fault of individual players- it is up to the coach to read the game properly and make the right substitution. Also, with so many games in so few days- why not field someone who has yet to play? Maybe the fresh legs of Hamada Al-Jaabari, Amir Qitawi or Raed Al-Dahleh could have been effective.
In summation, Iraqi coach Srecko Katenac showed his ability to change the game with a handful of substitutions. While Noureddine Ould Ali was stuck executing the same plan even after it became clear it was effectively neutralized and his defence was being put under increased pressure.
Fan Love: Palestine greeted Iraq’s fans with flowers and gift before the game- which was a nice gesture.
Offsides: Palestine was called for one offsides! Which, as I have mentioned before, is a rarity but what is even rarer is Palestine catching their opponents offsides. It doesn’t happen and I struggle to think of a team as averse to implementing this tactic to their defensive game.
What’s Next: Palestine play Lebanon on Monday, August 5th at 10:30 PM Jerusalem time.