Rapid Reaction: Kuwait 0:1 Palestine (International Friendly)

Palestine Starting XI: Toufic Ali, Musab Al-Battat (C), Mohammed Abu Mayala, Mohammed Khalil, Musa Farawi: Oday Kharoub, Musa Saleem; Mahmoud Abu Warda, Sameh Maraaba, Tamer Seyam; Shehab Qombor

GOALS: Sameh Maraaba 71′

SUBSTITUTIONS: Tamer Seyam <-> Mohammed Yameen 70′ // Shehab Qombor <-> Khaled Salem 85′ // Sameh Maraaba <-> Mohammed Darweesh 90′ // Mahmoud Abu Warda <-> Mohammed Obeid 90′

YELLOW CARDS: Musa Farawi 75′

RECAP: Palestine’s first match in a year was not expected to generate many positives. They had failed to beat Kuwait in eight previous attempts- a wretched run that they could not end when the two sides met in 2018, fresh off Kuwait’s suspension from international football.

The first half saw Palestine settle into the game after some early nerves. There was no shortage of experimentation from manager Noureddine Ould Ali. First time captain, Musab Al-Battat was deployed as a holding midfielder. Mohammed Khalil was thrown into the deep end and deployed as a left back in only his second game with the national team.

Palestine’s only debutant in the starting XI was arguably the best player in the first half. He did a bit of everything, bruising defenders with his size and also stretching the Kuwaiti back line with his pace. It was his excellent hold up play, however, that really stood out.

As the first half wore on, Palestine were quickly looking the better of the two sides. They effectively transitioned from defence to attack and caused problems for the Kuwaitis. Fahad Al-Rashidi was yellow carded for a rash challenge on Shehab Qombor in the 27th minute and was lucky not to be sent off six minutes later after a two footed tackle on Mahmoud Abu Warda.

Tamer Seyam’s free kick in the 29th minute was the best effort from either side as they headed to the dressing room scoreless at the half time break.

The second half followed the pattern of the first. Kuwait was better for the first ten minutes, Palestine looked nervy but absorbed the pressure and then went about showcasing their credentials.

In the 70th minute it seemed that Palestine were going to retreat into result preservation mode as Moody Yameen came on for Tamer Seyam. Palestine would flip the script less than a minute later. A poorly clear corner saw the ball fall to Al-Battat who deferred to Yameen who sent Abu Warda sprinting free behind the defence. The diminutive Balata man sent a gorgeous chip to the far post which was headed in by Sameh Maraaba for his 11th international goal.

Palestine showed great spirit to see the match out. Kuwait piled forward but were unable to mount a serious challenge on Palestine’s goal. The final minutes were nervy and showcased the makeshift nature of the back line. If it were not for a reflex save from Toufic Ali we might be talking about a 1-1 draw instead of a 1-0 win.

The final score though was just reward for a disciplined and spirited performance by a Palestine side without many of its stars.

What I liked: The result. It feels good to finally beat Kuwait. This might not be your father’s Kuwait (1980 Asian Cup winners, 1982 World Cup Finalists) or even your older brother’s Kuwait (Current FIFA Rank: 148) but its a side that Palestine has never beaten before. They did that today despite Palestine playing an experimental side comprised of WBPL Players and an unemployed Tamer Seyam.

For their part, Kuwait had all their best players at their disposal and looked extremely ordinary.

What I didn’t like: The back line might have kept a clean sheet but it did not look good in the process. Mohammed Abu Mayala acquitted himself well but his partner Musa Saleem looked lost. Worse still, was the performance of Mohammed Khalil who is similar to Abdallah Jaber the same way a Ferrari is similar to a Fiat- both are cars and Italian. A better team would have punished Khalil for any one of its critical errors. The news is Ahmed Qatamish was injured and Mohammed Khalil was drafted as a replacement but surely there must be better WBPL-based options at the position.

Also, the enforced 10 minute cameo of Khaled Salem coming on to leisurely jog around has become quite tiresome. I can only hope we see the end of this resurrected experiment sooner rather than later.

The Musab Al-Battat Experiment: Al-Battat as a CM was… mostly good. It’s always a challenge when you have two great players at the same position and it is tempting to try and accommodate both of them. I might have opted to play one on the right and the other on the left today. That said, Al-Battat was especially good at receiving the ball and making quick decisions. He is incredibly technical and a smart player the question is whether or not there is a scenario where he plays a competitive match ahead of the likes of Mohammed Rashid, Mohammed Darweesh, and Moody Yameen.

Man of the Match: There are many candidates to consider. Shehab Qombor, Oday Kharoub, and Mohammed Abu Mayala deserve special mention for doing a lot of the dirty work in this game. Moody Yameen provided a spark from the bench and the man he replaced, Tamer Seyam put a good shift in. That said, Mahmoud Abu Warda was the most consistent performer throughout the 90 minutes. A constant livewire whose hard work and deft touch created the winner.

Let’s not get carried away: I want to give Noureddine Ould Ali for getting this team fighting fit over the last two weeks and getting a really important, morale boosting result. That said, it was still a friendly. Kuwait are the worst ranked side in West Asia- some of that has to do with the fact that they served a two year ban from the sport but looking over their talent pool, it is clear to see that there is not much there.

Bader Al-Mutawaa might be a legend but he is 36 years old. Other than Al-Mutawaa, I highly doubt that most followers of Arab Football could name another Kuwaiti player.

The result and performance showcased what Ould Ali is good at. He can get a team fit, he can get a team to play disciplined defensive football, and he can typically avoid defeat against favored opposition. This was one of his better matches at the helm and I will not try and make a case for his sacking because its pointless, Rajoub will never get rid of him. So I wish him success- mostly because him succeeding means Palestine succeeds.

At the same time, let us not rush to sideline Abdallah Jaber and Rami Hamadi (and all the other absent players) because of one result. It was clear to see that their replacements are not quite ready for prime time and that Palestine still have work to do ahead of World Cup qualification matches and the Arab Nations Cup later this year.

What’s Next: Palestine take on Singapore in World Cup Qualifying. They are set to host the match that should have been played last year on March 25th, 2021.

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