Rapid Reaction: Bangladesh 0:2 Palestine (2020 Bangabandhu Gold Cup)

Starting XI: Toufic Ali; Radwan Abu Karsh, Musa Saleem, Mohammed Khalil, Yazan Owaiwi; Mahmoud Abu Warda; Odai Kharoub, Sameh Maraaba, Laith Kharoub (Rami Musalmeh); Mohammed Darwish (Dawoud Iraqi); Khaled Salem (Reebal Dahamshe)

Goals: Khaled Salem 29′ Laith Kharoub 58′ 

Recap: A starting lineup that featured five debutants generated the same result when these two teams met in the 2018 tournament. That said, 2-0 does not tell the entire scoreline as Bangladesh had shown more attacking intent up until Khaled Salem grabbed the opener in the 29th minute. The 30 year old striker had put together a highlight reel of ineffective play up until that point. The Shabab Al-Khaleel striker will owe a great debt to Odai Kharoub for recognizing his run and providing him with a great pass that resulted in a 1v1 with the Bangladeshi goalkeeper.

Palestine continued to labour needlessly for the next thirty minutes, insisting on playing long balls and gifting possession to the hosts. Jamie Day’s men executed their manager’s instructions well for the most part- generating more shots than Palestine who rank 81 spots above them in the FIFA rankings.

With about 50% possession, Bangladesh weren’t made to suffer and instead found ways to inflict pressure on their opponents. Toufic Ali spent much of the first half showcasing his inexplicable weakness on crosses- flapping at the ball on numerous occasions and failing to command his area. Bangladesh should have equalized when a long cross evaded Toufic Ali and Mohammed Khalil and landed in the path of a Bangladeshi forward who shot wide from two meters out.

Palestine put the match out of reach after the restart with captain Sameh Maraaba receiving a quick free kick and launching a long ball into the box. That tactic paid off- after dozens of failed attempts- as Laith Kharoub was gifted the chance to score on his debut, having been left totally unmarked.

Palestine were able to better assert themselves in the match’s final half hour; playing in third gear and securing all three points in the tournament’s opener.

What I liked: Palestine broke a winless streak. It might be an unofficial and meaningless tournament but after failing to win in their last four- effectively ending their World Cup qualification hopes- this result was needed in order to stop a downward spiral. It was also good to see young players like Dawoud Iraqi, Mohammed Darwish, and Reebal Dahamshe make their debuts with the national team.

What I didn’t like: Palestine continued the trend of playing down to their opponents level. With the attacking ability of Sameh Maraba, Mahmoud Abu Warda, and Mohammed Darwish in the starting lineup, Palestine had an opportunity to play more proactively and positively. Instead we saw the redeployment of a failed tactic that led to Palestine playing poorly and losing to Yemen and Singapore.

When the ball was successfully hoofed to Khaled Salem he showcased an uncanny ability to shoot wide, lose possession, and misplace passes. More often than not, Palestine weren’t winning possession- and Bangladesh could circumvent four players with one pass and launch a counter attack since the backline were stationed far too deep in relation to their teammates.

What was more frustrating was the fact that we did not get to see Palestine’s most gifted players strut their stuff. At no point did it seem that there was huge gulf in quality between Bangladesh and Palestine.

To put it simply, Al-Fida’i were able to win this game because of Bangladesh’s self inflicted errors not because of any positive passage of play or tactical instruction.

Plan for the future: I am all for handing a wider group of players experience but I fail to see the point in fielding players who are known quantities. Sameh Maraaba, Khaled Salem, and Toufic Ali had 99 caps between them coming into this match. Each player has played over 30 times for the national team and we didn’t learn anything new about them. Toufic Ali (30) is wildly inconsistent and has obviously neglected training during the winter break. Sameh Maraaba (27) is a good player who will feast on Asia’s weaker teams. Khaled Salem (30) is not cut out for international football and despite his strength and speed he makes way too many mistakes.

If it were up to me, I would have fielded players born exclusively after 1995. Only Mahmoud Abu Warda, Mohammed Khalil, Dawoud Iraqi, Reebal Dahmsheh, and Mohammed Darwish would fit that description.

There is no use in handing a 28 year old his debut when he will be on his last legs come the Asian Cup in three years’ time. That might seem harsh- especially since 27 year old Radwan Abu Karsh acquitted himself quite well- but it is reality. The average national team footballer makes his debut at 23 and is effectively out of the picture by 27. Since 1998 only 25 players aged 31 or above have played for the national team and only eight players have played for Palestine past their 33rd birthday. Now is the time to plan for the future and I would like to see heavy squad rotation reflect that in the next game.

What’s Next: Palestine face Sri Lanka on Friday needing just a point to ensure they advance to the semifinals of the tournament. Kickoff is set for 17:00 local time. 

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