Preview: Palestine vs. Saudi Arabia (FIFA Arab Cup)

  • What: 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
  • When: December 4th, 2021
  • Where: Education City Stadium, Al-Rayyan, Qatar
  • Kickoff: 21:00 Jerusalem
  • Streams/TV: Streamed live on our site, also available on FIFATV, beIN Sports & Al-Kass (MENA)

Previous Encounters

Pressure mounts as Palestine face a “Do or Die” Scenario

After a 4-0 mauling at the hands of a talented Morocco side, Palestine’s encounter against Saudi Arabia means there is no longer any room for error. 

Palestine has to start picking up points- preferably three at a time- if it wants to extend its stay in Qatar past December 7th. 

They will face an experimental Saudi side made up of players lacking international experience with only six out of the 23 man squad having played at senior level before the start of the FIFA Arab Cup. That team lost a feisty encounter that featured red cards and disallowed goals by a 1-0 scoreline. That result will mean both teams will be targeting all three points on offer in this game. 

Formation Change

Makram Dabboub’s big tactical experiment backfired spectacularly on Wednesday night with his five man backline providing little protection in a 4-0 loss. The logic behind the decision was sound and we saw what it could produce in the match immediately preceding it when Lebanon ceded possession, generated only two shots (none on goal), and held Egypt to a 1-0 scoreline. 

In the aftermath of that game, a reporter posed a question to manager Ivan Hasek with the preface that the first half, which ended 0-0, was better than the second half. Hasek replied “I have a different opinion, the first half was a disaster and we were only defending and kicking the ball out, the Egyptian team had many chances to score. In the second half, it was much better they had no chances to score except for the penalty” 

The difference between Lebanon and Palestine was not so much implementation of the game plan, but the quality of the opponent in front of goal. 

Morocco showcased more than a knack for breaking down a resolute defence. When Palestine did try to press high up the pitch they passed their way out of the press and sent El-Haddad on a lightning fast counter which should have resulted in Bencharki opening the scoring in the first five minutes of the game. 

When Palestine had the ball they pressed intelligently and consistently. In the middle of the pitch Mohammed Rashid and Mohammed Yamin were always at a numerical disadvantage. Palestine’s attempts to play on the wing was stifled as Morocco’s fullbacks repelled them high up the pitch- leaving Mahmoud Eid, Tamer Seyam, and Layth Kharoub isolated. Long balls didn’t work out either with Badr Benoun’s giant frame neutralizing the aerial passage. 

As a result, it is a near guarantee that Dabboub- who would have played with a four man backline had Musab Al-Battat been healthy- will return to his tried and tested 4-3-3 formation. With a short handed squad, Dabboub will also need to be creative and proactive in solving some of the problems that beset his team against Morocco. Finally, he will need to make better use of his substitutes; using them earlier and using them to change the proceedings of the game 

Inexperienced Saudi Team 

Saudi Arabia, unlike its Gulf Neighbors, decided to send an experimental squad to the FIFA Arab Cup and that inexperience was exposed in their opening day encounter. In the first half, Saudi Arabia had 60% possession but were unable to muster a single shot on goal and were lucky not to be 1-0 down after VAR controversially chalked off Yazan Al-Naimat’s goal. 

The toothless Saudi attack was further exposed after Ehsan Haddad was sent off in the 52nd minute. The ensuing 20 minutes were played at a numerical advantage for the Saudis but the team was not capable of troubling Jordan and instead went a goal down and saw centre back Khalifah Al Dawsari  collect two yellow cards and an ejection as the result of two needless challenges. 

The Saudis were further nullified by the absence of their most experienced player, striker Firas Al-Buraikan missed training and the game for “health reasons”. This is widely suspected, but not confirmed, to be a positive COVID-19 test. 

All in all, over the course of 90 minutes, they only troubled the Jordanian goalkeeper once and that chance came in the dying embers of the match. A yield of two shots on goal from 12 attempts and 61% possession proves that it’s not how much of the ball you have but what you do when you have it. 

Palestine must attack

There was an overwhelming negative reaction as a result of Palestine’s opening game at the FIFA Arab Cup amongst supporters with the most common refrain being that no one wanted to see the team play in a defensive shape. The frustration was warranted but very little credit was given to the fact that Morocco played extremely well. 

The coaching staff will need to be brave in how they approach their game- pressing Saudi Arabia high up the pitch and setting a higher defensive line. The players will also need to raise their game as several had performances to forget in their first outing. Losing your opening game by four goals only to advance to the group stage is a rarity but something Palestine have experience with.

Ten years ago, at the 2011 Pan Arab Games hosted by Qatar, Palestine lost their opening game 4-1 to Jordan and navigated a path to the semifinals by drawing Libya 1-1 and beating Sudan 2-0 to finish as the best runner up of the 10 team tournament. 

Predicted Lineup

Palestine have no suspensions and no injuries have been reported at the time of writing. Layth Khraoub picked up a yellow card and could miss the final group stage game against Jordan with a booking against Saudi Arabia. 

Palestine (4-3-3) 

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