Palestine’s U23 team achieve greatest ever finish at WAFF Championship

Palestine’s journey U23 WAFF Championship is over- but what a ride it was. Ehab Abu Jazar’s charges managed to record six point haul from nine games and in doing so bettered the record of the 2015 team. Not only that, this group of players did better on a points per game basis at a WAFF Championship than any of the senior men’s teams that came before them.

The only thing that prevented them from advancing out of the groups was the unbalanced nature of the tournament. Qatar’s absence meant there were only 11 teams and as a result the mechanism for determining the best runner up involved scratching off the results against he last place teams in the two four-team groups.

Palestine kicked off proceedings in Dammam against Iraq and a bright opening 20 minutes devolved quickly in the heat and humidity. Al-Fida’i recovered in the second half but could not translate a 15 minute spell of dominance into goals with Khaled Nabris, Anas Bani Odeh, and Mohammed Dereya being denied by a string of Hassan Ahmed saves.

Hassan Abdelkarim’s 81st minute goal would settle the match and eventually seal Palestine’s fate in the WAFF Championship.

The team’s reaction to that setback was nothing short of amazing. A 4-2 win over Lebanon was powered by a brilliant Mohammed Dereya hat trick.

Two days later, Palestine fixed a lot of their defensive issues in a 1-0 win over UAE who were favored to win the group and perhaps the entire tournament. After an eventful week in Dammam it looks increasing that several members of this team will be making their senior team debuts. Badr Moussa has already broken through but Mohammed Dereya, Khaled Nabris, and Hamed Hamdan are amongst several names in this team that could follow in his footsteps.

In spite of the early exit, Palestine can take heart form what they did in Saudi Arabia this past week. The true prize for Ehab Abu Jazar and the Olympic Team will be sealing qualification to the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup by securing results against Turkmenistan (October 28) & Jordan (October 31) at the end of the month.

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