After a WAFF Championship campaign that saw them collect wins against Lebanon and the UAE Palestine had hoped to parlay that momentum into a solid start to the qualifying campaign. Needless to say, No one was expecting a 3-1 reverse to a team that had never qualified for the U23 Asian Cup before and had only played Jordan 48 hours earlier.
As it stands it is hard to see how Al-Fida’i can forge a path to Uzbekistan 2022. An uneventful first 15 minutes was puncuated when Bashar Al-Shobaki failed to clear properly allowing Samamet Haydarow to open the scoring in the 17th minute.
Ehab Abu Jazar went to his bench twenty minutes later in search of a spark. Hertha Berlin’s Ali Abu Alfa relieved Ahmed Kullab and immediately went about wreaking havoc on the Turkmen defence.
Palestine did find the perfect response at the start of the second half with Badr Moussa latching on to a long free kick played in by the team’s right back Majdi Nabhan. That 47th minute goal seemed like a harbinger of things to come, the Palestinians kept coming forward but were repelled repeatedly by Rasul Carywew. When Carywew couldn’t pull off the save his defenders were flying in all directions to snuff out the danger. The Turkmen eagerness was also assisted by the Singaporean referee who committed a slew of questionable decisions.
Palestine thought they had their breakthrough in the 56th minute when Majdi Nabhan powered his freekick into the top corner of the Turkmen goal. Carywew was equal to it and would be equal to all other efforts on the night.
Palestine simply did not have the same presence of mind in defence or in goal and as the game wore on. The tired legs many had predicted to hamper Turkmenistan simply did not.
Of course, Palestine’s own naivety did them no favors. Hamed Hamdan should have known better than to dive in two footed into a challenge. That free kick he surrendered would generate the winning goal after Samamet Haydarow’s effort took a partial deflection that left Ezzat wrong footed. The Islami Qalqilya goalkeeper’s poor footwork led to even poorer decision making as he hopelessly flailed at the ball, effectively volleying it into its own net.
Palestine’s manager Ehab Abujazar was left clueless as to how to change the course of the game. While his Turkmen counterpart set up his team to frustrate his opponents in the final third and break on the counter.
Abu Jazar’s decision to shift Deriya into a central position to accommodate Ali Abu Alfa caused the Shabab Al-Khaleel man to go missing for most the match. His replacement on 80 minutes, Jamal Hamed was equally anonymous.
Palestine’s palpable frustration was exploited ruthlessly on a counter attack with several defenders and the goalkeeper hopelessly throwing themselves to the ground instead of practicing a more subtle but assured style of defending. Ameed Sawafta, Bashar Al-Shobaki, goalkeeper Mohammed Ezzat, and right back Majdi Nabhan committed so much it left Welmyrat Ballakow was in disbelief and wondering if he had strayed offside.
It was an indictment of an all WBPL backline and a coaching staff that made several bad decisions in their approach to the game. Moreover, it leaves Palestine with an even more daunting task in their attempt to return to the continental stage at U23 level.
As it stands, Palestine will need to beat Jordan by two goals to stand a chance of finishing as one of the best runners up and will need to beat them by three goals in order to qualify directly as group winners.
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