Rapid Reaction: Palestine 3:0 (2022 World Cup Qualifier)

Palestine Starting XI (4-3-3): Rami Hamadi, Musab Al-Battat (C), Yaser Hamed, Mohammed Saleh, Mohammed Khalil (Ahmed Qatmish); Mohammed Rashid (Mohammed Darweesh), Mahmoud Abu Warda (Odai Kharoub), Mohammed Yameen; Islam Batran (Tamer Seyam), Layth Kharoub (Badr Moussa), Oday Dabbagh

Goals: Dabbagh 43′, 84′ Hamed 45+4′

Cautions: Yaser Hamed 66′

Substitutions: Mohammed Khalil <-> Ahmed Qatmish 64′ // Layth Kharoub <-> Tamer Seyam 64′ // Islam Batran <-> Badr Moussa 64′ // Mahmoud Abu Warda <-> Odai Kharoub 78′ // Mohammed Rashid <-> Mohammed Darweesh 85′

Recap: Palestine’s last World Cup qualifier was played with the backdrop of other Asian nations fighting for their place in Round Three of World Cup qualifying. Unfortunately for, Al-Fida’i the result of their game against Yemen would get them no closer to Qatar in 17 months time as they had already been eliminated.

You would not know it by looking at this performance. Much like their game against Singapore, Palestine came out guns blazing, pressing the Yemenis high up the pitch and causing their defenders a litany of problems. It took Palestine less than a minute to win a free kick in a dangerous area and less than three minutes to win a corner.

The formula for Palestine was clear from the get go- mount pressure on the Yemeni rearguard until it breaks. Unlike their game against Singapore, the opener did not arrive early nor did it arrive often. Oday Dabbagh was once again Palestine’s most dangerous player; and his delightful shimmying of Ahmed El-Sadeq in the 12th minute allowed him enough space to chip Yemen’s goalkeeper Mohammed Khairallah, only to see his effort ping off the face of the goal.

Ten minutes later, Dabbagh was at it again. A whipped cross from Musab Al-Battat was met by Dabbagh’s headed effort only to see the crossbar deny him again.

The third time proved to be the charm as a great passage of play ended with Islam Batran picking out the Al-Arabi attacker with a pinpoint cross for the opening goal in the 43rd minute.

The second would arrive moments later. An expertly executed corner kick saw Mohammed Rashid’s corner loop towards Mohammed Saleh on the far post. The Gazan defender did really well to keep it in and Yameen teed up Islam Batran whose shot pinged off of Yaser Hamed’s chest and into the net.

Up 2-0 at halftime, Palestine had exited the danger zone. Yemen had been adept at clawing back from one goal deficits in qualifying, doing just that in a pair of 2-2 draws against Saudi Arabia and Singapore and nearly doing that in their last game- a 1-0 loss to Uzbekistan.

That said, the second half was anything but easy for Al-Fida’i. The floodgates did not open. Yemen still presented danger and right after the restart nearly caught Mohammed Saleh struggling to clear a ball- only for Rami Hamadi to rush out of his goal and karate kick the ball to safety.

Palestine would have opportunities to extend their lead but a resilient Yemen refused to give in remaining committed to their defensive duties. When Palestine did find a way past the defence Yemen’s young goalkeeper, Mohammed Khairallah, stepped up with save after save.

The icing on the cake did arrive for Palestine, Musab Al-Battat rounding off a spell of steady pressure to set up Oday Dabbagh for his second goal of the game. The 22 year old Jerusalemite had a chance minutes later to secure his hat trick but could not direct service from Mohammed Darweesh on target.

In the end, a professional display and convincing victory in the absence of many key players is more than most expected when qualifiers resumed this month. Palestine may not be in Qatar in 17 months time but could make the trip in five months time should they qualify for the Arab Cup.

What I liked: Makram Dabboub made two changes to his starting lineup and the players drafted in did an excellent job. Islam Batran was a menace down the wing. Mohammed Saleh’s trajectory was interrupted by a gruesome ACL tear in April 2019 and he has struggled to find a way back into Al-Masry’s Starting XI. That said, the Gazan defender was great on set pieces and put in a convincing display with only one or two minor hiccups along the way. It’s clear that there is a method, a plan, and a vision and for that I can only compliment the Tunisian on a job well done. If he gets Palestine past Comoros next week that interim tag should be removed.

What I didn’t like: There was one incidence where Yaser Hamed lost his cool and pushed a Yemeni player to the ground. He got a yellow card- perhaps the only thing Palestine didn’t do right today- but they should remember that this type of indiscipline could result in a red card and cost the team in important games.

Man of the Match: Islam Batran. Did a lot in his 63 minutes of play and full justified his place in the team. Set up both goals superbly and gave the Yemeni defence fits.

What’s Next: Palestine have official qualified for…. Asian Cup qualifying!

Final Group D Standings

In absolute soul crushing fashion, Palestine would have qualified had they simply beat Singapore and Yemen. 16 Points (10 points minus results against the last place team) would have been enough. Lebanon are direct benefactors from Palestine’s shock 2-0 win over Uzbekistan on the opening day of qualifying.

Syria, Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, and Korea Republic won their groups and will be joined by China, Iraq, Oman, Vietnam, and the aforementioned Lebanon in Round 3. These teams- along with Qatar (winners of Group E) have also qualified for the 2023 Asian Cup- which will be hosted in China in the summer of that year.

Palestine will be a Pot 1 team for the upcoming Asian Cup qualification draw. Coming into qualifying, only Uzbekistan, Jordan, Bahrain, and Kyrgyzstan were ranked above Al-Fida’i. Palestine and a sixth team will therefore round out the first tier teams still vying to qualify for the continental showpiece.

Next Game: Palestine’s work this month is not over. There is the small matter of the Arab Cup qualifier against Comoros. This game will be played on June 24th at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Qatar. The winner will progress to Group C of the Arab Cup alongside Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the winner of the Jordan/South Sudan Playoff.