Rapid Reaction: Palestine 5:1 Comoros (FIFA Arab Qualifier)

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Palestine Starting XI: Rami Hamadi, Musab Al-Battat (Musa Farawi), Abdelatif Bahdari (C), Yaser Hamed Mayor (Mohammed Sammar), Mohammed Khalil; Mohammed Rashid, Mohammed Yameen, Mahmoud Abu Warda; Layth Kharoub (Badr Moussa), Oday Dabbagh (Saleh Chihadeh), Tamer Seyam (Islam Batran)

Goals: L. Kharoub 35′, Dabbagh 42′ Seyam 56′ 72′ Batran 81′

Substitutions: Badr Moussa <-> Layth Kharoub 77′ // Islam Batran <-> Tamer Seyam 77′ // Saleh Chihadeh <-> Oday Dabbagh 79′ // Musa Farawi <-> Musab Al-Battat 83′ // Mohammed Sammar <-> Yaser Hamed Mayor 83′

Cautions: Tamer Seyam 28′

Recap: Palestine packed a year’s worth of drama in the opening half of their FIFA Arab Cup qualifier against Comoros. A disastrous start and an ensuing nervy half hour were washed away by a scintillating attacking performance that sends Palestine to the FIFA Arab Cup finals in style.

The side that had looked so comfortable against Singapore and Yemen was out of sorts from the get go against Les Coelacantes. Djoumi Moussa was through on goal in the first two minutes of the match only for the Italian linesman to save Palestine’s blushes by whistling for offsides. That scene of Moussa sprinting on goal was a harbinger of bad things to come.

Comoros used their pace and power to carve Palestine up the gut in a passage of play reminiscent of 1980s English football. Bahdari failed to win a header, Hamed was slow to the 50:50 ball and all of a sudden Mousa was one-on-one with Hamadi. Moments later the Palestinian goalkeeper was picking the ball out the back of his net for the first time since 2019.

Palestine were simply shell shocked for the next twenty minutes. Comoros were quick to organize themselves into two banks of four in defence and even quicker to counter. Makram Dabboub’s side thought things took a turn for the worse in the 20th minute as Abu Warda was adjudged to have brought down Djoumi Moussa in the box. In a historic turn of events, Italian referee Daniele Daveri went to the VAR Box and changed his mind showing Moussa a yellow card for simulation ( but only after he had accidentally whipped the red card from his pocket).

Palestine were still not playing freely after dodging that bullet and needed a fantastic save from Rami Hamadi to keep the deficit to one goal on the half hour mark.

Five minutes later though, Palestine found a lifeline. A Mohammed Rashid free kick from 40 yards out found Bahdari at the far corner of the box and the 37 year old stretched ever sinew of his body to redirect it goal wards. An on rushing Moody Yameen caused Ounessi to flap at the ball, which eventually found its way to Layth Kharoub for his fourth international goal.

Minutes later, Dabbagh should have put Palestine ahead only to shoot straight at Ounessi wasting a great ball played to him by Layth Kharoub.

The Jerusalemite would make up for his earlier error in the 42nd minute receiving a ball on the left flank dribbling two defenders and sending a belter into the side of the Comoros net.

The second half allowed Palestine a platform to kick on. Their supporters who outnumbered their Comoros counterparts by 20:1 were quiet for much of the first half but in full voice for all of the second stanza. A Palestinian chorus accompanied a deluge of goals as Palestine as Dabbagh played provider to Seyam whose first goal was nearly as nice as Dabbagh’s. A textbook counter attack accentuated by Seyam’s lung busting run and clever header.

Seyam made it 4-1 with just over twenty minutes to play and in the final ten minutes the substitutes got in on the action. Badr Moussa thought he had his first international goal only to see it chalked off for offside but fellow substitute Islam Batran did eventually bag the fifth. The former Wadi Degla attacker used his technique and quick feet to bamboozle the Comoros defence and slot home his second goal in as many games.

When the final whistle sounded at the Jassem bin Hamad satdium the mood was absolutely euphoric. Palestine might have lurched from one crisis to another for the past three years but that seems a long time ago now. If Al-Fida’i play like this at the Arab Cup finals whose to say they won’t cause some upsets in a group that contains Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan?

What I Liked: The ability to respond. Palestine’s comeback wins are few and far between and absolutely everything went against them in the first 30 minutes of this match. A VAR reprieve helped but it would have been all for naught if Rami Hamadi didn’t make an excellent save 10 minutes later. Good sides navigate adversity and this is what Palestine did tonight with aplomb.

What I didn’t like: Makram Dabboub should have made one substitution earlier- Saleh Chiahdeh. With the type of service Seyam and Dabbagh were providing he would have finally scored his first goal for Palestine. That said, I cannot fault his substitution policy. He made it a point to get all outfield players at least one game this month by brininging on Mohammed Sammar and Mousa Farawi late on.

FIFA Commentators: The play by play was a solid 8/10 with pronouncing Arabic names but struggled with Batran and Dabbagh (the last one is pretty difficult). The color guy (Niall Quinn’s former teammate) left a lot to be desired he bungled the names of Bahdari and then just gave up with Dabbagh- calling him Dabby. That said, we put on a show and both commentators were complimentary about our style of play and the quality of our players. I already have the feeling that the FIFA Arab Cup is more prestigious than the Asian Cup given the type of media exposure and production levels that have gone into the competition.

Man of the Match: Tamer Seyam. Excellent service throughout the game and did not back down when things were going against the team. His first goal was an absolutely magnificent piece of interplay between him and Dabbagh who also deserves high praise for his two assists and equally sublime goal.

Interim… No More?: When I was initially asked whether I could foresee a scenario whereby Makram Dabboub could take the Palestine job on a permanent basis my exact words were “No. Well not unless he does something crazy like win the three games by four goals or more.”

I simply do not see how the Palestine FA could change the coach now. Dabboub is not the finished product as a manager by any means but he knows the players well and has managed to revive a squad from the ashes of an historic and humiliating defeat. The PFA should provide him with all the support he needs to get his Pro License.

Chapeau Comoros: This was not Comoros’s first choice side. Their manager did not even travel with the squad but this group of young players did extremely well in the first 30 minutes. If this is what a hastily assemble Comorian side can do it is no wonder the real deal has managed to qualify for their first ever African Cup of Nations.

The Comorian fans were also fantastic. Singing for the entire 90 minutes and exhibiting great sportsmanship in defeat.

What’s Next: No friendly matches have been scheduled for Palestine in the forthcoming September or October windows. The Arab Cup will kick off on November 30th. Palestine will open the tournament against Morocco on Decmber 1st, lock horns with Saudi Arabia on December 4th, and wrap up group play against their rivals Jordan on December 7th.