The obituary of Noureddine Ould Ali’s time at the helm of the Palestine national team has been written more than once. In fact, this very publication expressed the feeling that the Algerian’s time might be over on more than one occasion.
Now, in April 2021, we have confirmation from the man himself- even if there seems to be complete radio silence on the part of the Palestine Football Association.
In a post on his personal Facebook page Ould Ali thanked the Palestine Football Association and its President while wishing luck to an unnamed successor.
Ould Ali who became the national team manager under tumultuous circumstances leaves as its second most tenured tactician. While he will be able to point to some successes while in charge, Palestine’s record and performances throughout World Cup qualifying serve as a damning indictment and one that eventually cost him his job.
Ould Ali managed 33 official games with the national team registering 12 wins, 10 draws (a record), and 11 losses. His teams scored 31 goals over the time span (.94 Goals per Game) and conceded 35 (1.04 Goals Allowed per Game).
The Algerian’s first match came in May 2018 and things started well enough as a team of WBPL players held Iraq to a 0-0 draw in Basra. A few days later, Palestine fell 2-0 to Kuwait and then played a third match outside the official FIFA window losing on home soil for the first time ever in a 3-0 reverse against Iraq. The next month, Palestine once again avoided victory drawing 1-1 away to Kyrgyzstan and losing 3-0 to Qatar.
While these games involved a fair deal of experimentation and should have been used to fine tune a system put in place by Abdel Nasser Barakat. Ould Ali went back to basics; when Palestine participated in the 2018 Bangabadhu Gold Cup in October 2018 the focus was simple- defend.
Opposition that Palestine would have previously laid waste to were instead dispatched with great difficulty. Both Bangaldesh (2-0) and Nepal (1-0) looked relatively comfortable against a side that was ranked in Asia’s Top 15 and FIFA’s Top 100 at the time. Victory in the friendly tournament proved to be an effective balm.
Noureddine Ould Ali registered draws against Marcello Lippi’s China and Carlos Queiroz’s Iran in the lead up to the Asian Cup Finals and while Palestine did manage to solve its defensive issues before the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, it did so in large part by neutering an attack that scored goals for fun during the qualification phase.
Then there were the experiments. Which were disastrous in almost every regard. At the Asian Cup Finals we saw Alexis Norambuena deployed as a midfielder, Musab Al-Battat the shortest player in the squad was played as a centreback in a 3-0 loss against Australia, Yashir Islame was played as #10 ahead of Nazmi Albadawi in the last match against Jordan. None of these ideas were tested before and the results showed.
The tinkering continued in World Cup qualifying- Yashir Islame who was prolific when played as a #9 became an ineffective winger. Musab Al-Battat, who is one of the best right backs in Asia, was played as a central midfielder in Ould Ali’s disastrous final game.
There was also the bewildering resurgence of Khaled Salem. An attacker barely able to compete at WBPL level who was given the chance at the Asian Cup Finals and World Cup qualifying ahead of professionals playing in Europe and South America.
Ould Ali handed 28 players their debut in his time as Palestine Manager and deserves a good deal of credit for unearthing Yaser Hamed Mayor and giving him a starring role before the player’s 22nd birthday. That said, Ould Ali was also guilty of not handing more caps to younger players earlier- Musa Farawi, Mahmoud Abu Warda, Mohamad Darwish, and Michel Termanini probably should have been part of the Asian Cup squad given how poorly some of the veteran players played.
The majority of the new blood that was injected into the national team did not do much to justify its conclusion. Musa Saleem, Haitham Khairallah, Ahmed Abu Khadija, Radwan Abukarsh, Musab Abusalem, Layth Kharoub and Thaer Jboor were all over 25 at the time they earned their national team caps. While others, such as the hapless Mohammed Khalil, were simply not ready to play international football.
While it is difficult to sum up nearly three dozen games and three years in a single article. It is the belief of this writer that the Ould Ali era can be summed up with 3Cs- Confusion, Conservatism, and Cowardice.
That all came to a head in Ould Ali’s final game against Saudi Araiba. The PFA and whomever is in charge of logistics also shoulders a great deal of blame; let it not be forgotten that this match was never meant to be played in March.
That drama was only compounded when several good players were left by the wayside ahead of a do or die game: Nazmi Albadawi, Mohamad Darwish, and Ahmed Awad were called up but never issued plane tickets. When Oday Dabbagh could not get out of Kuwait and Shehab Qombor fell ill- none of the players were drafted in. In form players like Abdallah Jaber, Mahmoud Eid, and Michel Termanini weren’t even given the courtesy of a call up.
Then there were the in-game decisions. Rami Hamadi left on the bench (for what a source within Ould Ali’s staff now says were for sporting decisions and definitely not political at all) alongside stalwarts like Mohammed Saleh, Mohammed Darweesh, and Mohammed Rashid.
For three years a false sense of stability surrounded the national team. They were never that bad mostly due to the outstanding efforts of the players on the pitch. Then it all came crashing down. The side that beat Uzbekistand 2-0 to open qualifying and dominated Saudi Arabia in a 0-0 draw in October 2019 just collapsed.
Playing a 6-3-1 whilst out of possession, with your most advanced player only 40 yards from his goal was always courting trouble. Two goalkeeping errors at the end of the first half sealed Palestine’s fate. Three more Saudi goals in the second sealed Ould Ali’s.