Preview: Saudi Arabia vs. Palestine (2022 World Cup Qualifier)

What: 2022 FIFA World Cup/2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifying
When: Tuesday March 30th, 2021
Where: Mrsool Park, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Kickoff: 20:30 Jerusalem
Streams/TV: Streamed live on our site 

Previous Encounters

19.10.2019 // Palestine 0:0 Saudi Arabia (2022 WCQ)

05.11.2015 // Palestine 0:0 Saudi Arabia (2018 WCQ)
11.06.2015 // Saudi Arabia 3:2 Palestine (2018 WCQ)
11.08.2014 // Saudi Arabia 2:0 Palestine (Friendly)
28.06.2012 // Saudi Arabia 2:2 Palestine (2012 Arab Cup)
03.12.2005 // Palestine 0:2 Saudi Arabia (2005 West Asian Games)

Scheduling Controversy

Palestine take to the pitch this Tuesday in a game that was never meant to be played in March. This match was always going to be played in June as per the original schedule and was thought to be one of three matches Palestine would play in a centralized venue to culminate this phase of Asian World Cup qualifying.

The decision to reshuffle the schedule was a sudden one. FIFA had announced that all but five matches would be played in centralized venues in June (since designated as Saudi Arabia). Saudi Arabia scored an initial coup by convincing Yemen to play on March 25th but that match fell through and so did several other fixtures- most notably with Australia deciding not to travel to Nepal. Saudi Arabia was able to convince Palestine to push their match up- a double coup for the Saudis who will not have to deal with fixture congestion in June in addition to securing a home fixture that could have been taken away at the time of decision.

Their Pot 1 counterparts Australia, on the other hand, will have no such luck facing the daunting prospect of 4 matches in 12 days.

For Palestine, it’s a strange decision- they are in the last chance saloon in regards to qualifying and have handed a helping hand to a rival. To make matters worse, the AFC’s decision to choose Saudi Arabia as the host country for the remaining Group D matches means the Palestinians will lose two home matches in World Cup qualifying.

Absences Abound

Abdallah Jaber’s spat with the Palestinian Football Association means that the national team will play a competitive fixture without the left back for the first time since September 2017 (vs Bhutan) and for only the second time since he made his debut in May 2014.

Forwards Mahmoud Wadi and Shehab Qombor were called up but were forced to withdraw to an injury and illness, respectively.

Oday Dabbagh was amongst the 26 players called up for this match but he has not been able to leave Kuwait. The blocker seems to be coronavirus travel restrictions although that has not stopped many of his Al-Arabi teammates from traveling to Riyadh to play in the Saudi Arabia – Kuwait fixture on March 25th.

While letters of release were drafted and sent for Ahmed Awad, Nazmi Albadawi, and Amr Kaddoura none of the three was issued with a plane ticket for travel. The news of the availability of Qombor and Dabbagh has not generated a callup for either Albadawi or Awad.

As a result, Palestine will not have a lot of experience off the bench in attacking positions:

Saudi Arabia: Efficiency without Excellence

Saudi Arabia have also been hit with their own late withdrawal. Abdullah Al-Hamdan, the side’s most promising young player, was forced out of the squad due to a positive COVID-19 swab. Al-Hamdan has been the closest thing to a reliable goalscorer during the Herve Renard era with 4 goals in his 11 caps. As such there will be even more pressure on Salem Al-Dawsari and Firas Al-Buraikan to provide the goals for the side.

Against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia looked like an Herve Renard team in many aspects of the game. As with every game (bar their Gulf Cup semifinal win over Qatar) under the Frenchman the Saudis enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. That said, they struggled to translate that into chances and mustered only a single shot on goal out of 14 attempts. For comparison’s sake, Palestine managed three shots on goal against the Kuwaitis in January (a 1-0 win for Al-Fida’i)

A 1-0 win was secured thanks to a corner kick goal. In the lead up, the Kuwaiti defender on the post seemed to duck allowing the ball to sail in over his head.

As mentioned earlier this week, Saudi Arabia is far from its finest vintage and several questions remain to be answered. The Tambakti-Sahafi pairing in defence is a new one (one of a half dozen combinations Renard has tried out) and for all their ability to maintain possession this is a side that is susceptible to counterattacks- something Palestine showed back in October 2019.

Ceding possession is something Palestine will be quite comfortable with so for the Saudi to emerge with three points they’ll have to find a second gear against an opponent that has given them plenty of trouble over the years.

Qualification Scenarios

For the Saudis, this match might not matter all that much. A draw leaves fate in their own hands as they could win the group by beating Singapore and Yemen and drawing Uzbekistan in the final game.

The Palestinians have precious few paths to Round Three of World Cup qualification. Simply put, they must beat Saudi Arabia. A draw would keep them mathematically alive but needing several results to fall their way.

That said, Palestine’s fate is not entirely in its own hands. To start with they need to beat Saudi Arabia and then register wins against Yemen and Singapore in June. They will also need help from the Yemenis and Singaporeans in their matches against Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

For Palestine to qualify they must:

  • Win all three remaining games AND
  • Have Saudi Arabia vs. Uzbekistan end in a draw
  • Have Uzbekistan lose to either Yemen or Singapore
  • Have Saudi Arabia draw to either Yemen or Singapore

In this scenario all three teams would end up on 13 points. Goal differential will play a part in tie breaking so Palestine needs to find a way to start scoring consistently in order to have any hope.

Projected Lineup

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