What: International Friendly (held outside FIFA Window)
When: Monday January 18th, 2021
Where: Kuwait City, Kuwait
Kickoff: 16:45 Jerusalem
Streams/TV: Streamed live on our site
Previous Encounters: Kuwait leads the series (7-1-0). The most recent encounter, a 2018 Friendly, ended in a 2-0 win for Kuwait. Palestine’s lone draw came in the first game a 2002 Arab Nations Cup Game that ended in a 3-3 draw (Highlights Below):
This is the first competitive action Palestine will have seen in one year. A team bereft of many of its stars lifted the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in January 2020. The only two players that featured in that tournament and a 2022 World Cup qualifier were Toufic Ali, Mahmoud Abu Warda, and Khaled Salem.
The squad selected to face Kuwait, which is composed exclusively of WBPL players and one unattached player due to the fact that the date falls outside the FIFA Calendar. That said, there is a bit more experience in this particular squad, Musab Al-Battat, Tamer Seyam, and Mohammed Darweesh, Mohammed Yameen, and Musa Farawi were not in Bangladesh 12 months ago- and for that matter neither was Manager Noureddine Ould Ali.
Here are five things to look out for as Palestine take the pitch for the first time in 2021.
Who Captains the Team?
Abdelatif Bahdari was close to retirement in 2019 after the culmination of the Asian Cup. The center back stayed on for another year but with Palestine’s chances at advancing to the next stage of World Cup Qualifying close to zero he stepped aside in 2020.
Palestine has had a clear succession path for the captaincy since rejoining FIFA in 1998. Saeb Jendeya served until 2008 and it was obvious that Ramzi Saleh would take over. Seven Years later, Abdelatif Bahdari was the natural choice. Now, six years on we stand at a crossroads.
Abdallah Jaber has the most caps (56) but after falling out with the PFA over unpaid wages and joining Hapoel Hadera it is unclear if he’ll return to the national team fold.
Musab Al-Battat is the most tenured outfield player having received his first cap way back in 2013. Toufic Ali has been part of the national team set up the longest having first appeared for the senior side in December 2011.
Mohammed Darweesh captains his side, Hilal Al-Quds, at club level and also has been touted as a potential national team captain.
Despite these three candidates it was Sameh Maraaba, who played a total of zero minutes during Palestine’s WAFF Championship and World Cup Qualifying campaigns, who got to vote for FIFA’s The Best Award last month.
Will a WBPL ‘keeper step up?
Rami Hamadi- if he is to be called up– would be the automatic number one choice. Amr Kaddoura who had a fantastic 2019 season but spent the 2020 season nursing an injury seems to be the alternate. The third name, Toufic Ali has been part of the senior set up for nearly ten years.
Naim Abu Aker and Anas Abu Saif got their first senior team caps against Bangabandhu Gold Cup last year but failed to impress and Toufic Ali returned for the final.
One year on, has the calculus changed?
Who is Palestine’s second best Left Back?
If Abdallah Jaber is going to be frozen out the team then Palestine’s coaching staff will need to ask a question that has not been asked since May 2014. Who is the best left back?
Will Ould Ali take advantage of the depth he has at right back to play Farawi out of position on the left? Or will someone like Yazan Iwaiwi stake a claim to the position?
Are any of the center backs ready to meaningfully contribute?
For the first time in over ten years, Palestine will not be able to count on the services of Haitham Dheeb and Abdelatif Bahdari. That defensive duo powered Palestine to two Asian Cup Finals and the country’s best ever World Cup qualifying campaign.
Their absence leaves a massive gap to fill. Palestine’s coaching staff will be breathing a sigh of relief that Yaser Hamed and Michel Termanini are playing consistently in Bahrain and Oman.
In addition to that Mohammed Saleh is working his way back from his ACL tear and was included in an Al-Masry match day squad for the first time since May 2019.
There is an opportunity however for one of the WBPL players included in this squad to make a statement and become a regular contributor to the national team.
Will Noureddine Ould Ali evolve?
Is Palestine going to continue to play a low block of eight players? Will they ever become anything other than a squad that can frustrate bigger teams?
The focus against Kuwaiit should be to prepare the team for the 2021 Arab Cup and getting them on the right track to qualify for 2023 Asian Cup. The World Cup dream for Palestine is effectively over but 2021 could be the start of something new, different, and exciting.
The cynics will say that Ould Ali is incapable of change but he did show up to camp last week looking significantly (15-20 kg) skinnier- so you never know…