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

Starting XI: Anas Abusaif, Thaer Jboor, Yazan Iwaiwi, Musa Saleem, Ahmed Qatmish, Mohamed Darwish (Layth Kharoub), Dawoud Iraqi, Musab Abusalem, Mahmoud Abu Warda, Rami Musalmeh (Sameh Maraaba), Reebal Dahamshe (Khaled Salem)

Goals: Mahmoud Abu Warda 90+3, Khaled Salem 90+6

Recap: Friday’s encounter marked the first time Palestine and Sri Lanka have met at senior level but the 9-0 destruction doled out by Palestine’s U23 team 10 months ago set expectations rather high. While Al-Fida’i did have more possession and shots than against Bangladesh they were bereft of attacking ideas from the outset. It took less than a minute for bad habits to creep in with the captain- Mahmoud Abu Warda needlessly launching a long ball from inside his own half (spoiler alert: Sri Lanka won a free kick).

Five minutes later, Rami Musalmeh won possession just outside the box, shoved Abu Warda out of his way and then proceeded to square the ball to no one. Despite enjoying 65% possession in the first half, Palestine hardly mustered just two fairly innocuous shots on goal. Some of the attacking rhythm was just bizarre, as stand-in manager Makram Dabdoub elected to attack almost exclusively down the right flank.

Many attacks broke down as a result of Rami Musalmeh deployed as a #10 simply making the wrong decision in the build up- errant passes and a hesitancy to shoot left 17 year old Reebal Dahamshe as isolated as Mohamed Darwish was on the left flank.

Palestine were far improved after the restart with the first 10 minutes producing two real goal scoring chances courtesy of a Rami Musalmeh header that was cleared off the line and a Mohamed Darwish free kick.

That said, certain members of Al-Fida’i did display a lack of awareness- Musab Abusalem chief amongst them as he dribbled around in the opponent’s box when a pass could have generated a scoring opportunity for one of his teammates.

The shots came thick and fast with Palestine hitting the post as Mahmoud Abu Warda grew ever more influential as a service provider.

Palestine continued to pour on the pressure as the minutes ticked away- there was a chance for Darwish who skied a first time volley- when he had plenty of time to settle the ball before shooting. Five minutes later, fellow Germany based Dawoud Iraqi drove into the box and forced a save from Prabath Ruwan.

Palestine would continue to search for a winner until injury time when substitute Sameh Maraaba set up Mahmoud Abu Warda with an exquisite cross. The diminutive Abu Warda launched himself at the ball to put Palestine ahead after 93 minutes.

With the last kick of the game another substitute- Khaled Salem- doubled the scoreline- a blistering counterattack started by Layth Kharoub and finished in just three touches. Dawoud Iraqi set up Salem and a fortuitous touch saw the ball roll past the goalkeeper and an out stretched defence.

What I liked: It was good to see Reebal Dahamshe start- these types of friendlies should be used as testing grounds for promising players. I thought the 17 year old did quite well in certain phases of the game but he was let down by his manager who paired him with the inept Rami Musalmeh.

It was also good to see the team dig deep and get a win. It was ugly but winning in difficult circumstances is part and parcel of international football. For the few that will go on to play with the A team this was a good experience.

What I didn’t like: The first half was horrible. Palestine, even with its B-team, should be able to finish one of the weakest sides in Asia after just 45 minutes of play. There was no urgency from many of the players- Rami Musalmeh chief amongst them. There was cowardice on the part of the manager as well who only really unchained his fullbacks in the second half.

The fact of the matter is that Palestine has no identity in attack and it becomes obvious when they play weaker teams who can nullify long ball tactics by simply stationing eight players in the vicinity of the two forwards.

Whether it’s with fringe players or the full side Palestine need to assert their dominance when they have possession especially against weaker opposition. This was a side that had shown an ability to do just that between 2015 and 2017.

The broadcast commentator put it best “certainly not fluid… I am still waiting to see the team that is in the top 100 in the FIFA Rankings- they don’t look to different from the teams further down the rankings.”

Khaled Salem: What irks me the most about Khaled Salem is not his lack of ability but his lack of awareness. He constantly mopes and complains on the pitch and has failed to mature since bursting onto the scene in 2010.

The first thing he did when he came onto the pitch today was to wrestle the captain’s armband off Mahmoud Abu Warda (who was fully deserving of his Man of the Match award). He then proceeded to lose possession fluff his lines in front of goal and complain to the referee for 65 minutes. Yes he might have two goals in to games but only as a result of two 1v1 situations.

What’s Next: Palestine have won Group A and will face either Seychelles or Mauritius in the semifinal on Wednesday at 5 PM local time. 

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