Rapid Reaction: Saudi Arabia 0:5 Palestine (2022 World Cup Qualifier)

Palestine Starting XI: Toufic Ali; Musa Farawi, Yaser Hamed, Mohammed Abu Mayala, Ahmed Qatmish; Musab Al-Battat, Odai Kharoub; Tamer Seyam (Mohammed Yameen), Sameh Maraaba (Waleed Qombor), Mahmoud Abu Warda (Islam Batran); Saleh Chihadeh (Ahmed Abu Khadija).

Cautions: Yaser Hamed 43′ Mohammed Abu Mayala 53′ , Ahmed Qatmish 86′

Highlights:

Full Match: https://fb.watch/4z4sjwMN9o/

Recap: The story of this game unfolded in the weeks and hours in the lead up to the game. There was no shortage of controversy. The PFA and coaching staff decided to obfuscate and hide the names of players called up for the tie. There was no call up for Abdallah Jaber, Mahmoud Eid, Mohamad Darwish, Michel Termanini and Yashir Islame. There were call ups for Nazmi Albadawi, Ahmed Awad, and Amr Kaddoura until they weren’t followed up with a plane ticket to Saudi Arabia.

Oday Dabbagh and Shehab Qombor also disappeared from the squad list. The former due to his inability to leave Kuwait due to COVID-19 rules and the latter due to a mysterious illness.

The surprises didn’t stop there. Noureddine Ould Ali opted to leave several national team stalwarts on the bench- goalkeeper Rami Hamadi, defender Mohammed Saleh, and midfielders Mohammed Rashid and Mohammed Darweesh.

The decision to play Toufic Ali a man who has not kept a clean sheet in a competitive fixture in five years was inexcusable and unforgivable.

The opening 35 minutes unfolded as any match with Noureddine Ould Ali at the helm. The team bunkered, ceded possession and frustrated Saudi Arabia. They even carved out the best chance of the game until the floodgates opened. Toufic Ali had allowed more than a dozen goals in his four games at club level and his lack of confidence and ability was on full display. Once Yaser Al-Shehri opened the scoring the game was over insomuch that there is no Plan B with Ould Ali.

The second half saw two more goals after the restart. Whatever substitution Ould Ali tried they did little to turn the tide of the game- his substitution of Tamer Seyam, statistically Palestine’s best player in the first half was particularly bizarre. Palestine were a complete mess in the middle of the pitch and the two big gambles on WBPL talent- Odai Kharoub and Mohammed Abu Mayala misfired badly. When Palestine did find a way to threaten the Saudi goal pressure could not be sustained and the only clear tactic was for balls to be launched in the general direction of Saleh Chihadeh.

The FC Thun forward was reduced to running between four Saudi players on his lonesome. When he was finally given decent service in the 88th minute he was so exhausted he could not muster a shot on goal.

Saudi Arabia won a penalty in the 86th minute courtesy of some creative defending from Ahmed Qatmish further highlighting yet another player who clearly is not ready for Prime Time. Al-Dawsari made no mistake from, the 5-0 loss is Palestine’s worst ever result in a World Cup or Asian Cup Qualifier and officially eliminates Al-Fida’i from contention

What I liked: I can’t fault the effort the team put in in the first half. The 2-0 result was a result of poor goalkeeping and Toufic Ali is nothing more than a third string goalkeeper you bring along to these games because he’s a nice guy who has some experience.

What I didn’t like: If its true that there were “political pressures” that led to Rami Hamadi’s benching then the team should strike. You are Palestinian if you were born in what is considered the State of Israel, you are Palestinian if you are born in Jerusalem, you are Palestinian if you are born in Gaza, you are Palestinian if you are born in the West Bank, and you are still Palestinian if you are born abroad to Palestinians who were force to leave their homes.

The decision to play this game was a curious one- when we were not required by the AFC to do so. Heck, it was SCHEDULED FOR JUNE. The entire system of callups was a disaster and we ended up with just Mohammed Saleh, Mohammed Rashid, Yaser Hamed, and Saleh Chihadeh from the original list that had Dabbagh, Albadawi, Awad, and Kaddoura.

Finally, I would like to impart with some key knowledge to the coaching staff: We needed to win this game to have a realistic chance, and a slight one at that, of qualifying for the next stage.

The decisions to omit several key players from the side was an absolute joke. Hamadi should have started in goal. Saleh in defence. Darweesh in midfield. Mohammed Rashid is in amazing form for his Saudi team and yet he could not get on the pitch.

What’s Next: It feels like Palestine are at a crossroads. That said, it felt like that in November 2019. Palestine’s largest ever loss in a competitive fixture cannot be ignored. Al-Fida’i have two more games left (vs. Singapore and Yemen in June to be held in Saudi Arabia) and if they don’t find a way to avoid finishing bottom of the group they could be on their way to a playoff just to participate in Asian Cup qualifying.

This was Noureddine Ould Ali’s 33rd game in charge. If he is still in the post in June he will have led Palestine in more official matches than any other manager. Surely, Rajoub pulls the plug now- if only to save his own skin.