Starting XI (5-4-1): Amr Kaddoura, Abdelsalam Salama, Abdelatif Bahdari, Mohamed Saleh, Yaser Hamed Mayor, Ahmed Qatamish; Layth Kharoub, Mohammed Yamin, Mohammed Rashid, Tamer Seyam; Mahmoud Eid.
72’ Mohammed Darweesh for Mohammed Rashid
72’ Mahmoud Abuwarda for Layth Kharoub
72’ Reebal Dahamshe for Mahmoud Eid
89’ Odai Kharoub for Mohammed Yamin
Morocco: Mohammed Nahiri (31’), Abdelilah Hafidi (56’, 64’), Badr Benoun (PK. 87’)
Palestine: Layth Kharoub 28’
Morocco: Mohamed Chibi 40’
Recap: Palestine knew full well that their toughest match at the Arab World’s showpiece event would be against the Atlas Lions. Although their opponents would be bereft of their European based stars the Moroccans boast a wealth of talent playing in the local league, Egypt, and various countries in the Gulf.
Things did not get any easier for Palestine after being denied the services of several of their stars due to club duties. The situation went from bad to worse when they lost starting goalkeeper Rami Hamadi and their top right back, Musab Al-Battat, on the eve of the tournament.
Without Al-Battat to provide an attacking impetus, manager Makram Dabboub opted to play a 5-4-1 formation with three centre backs tasked with denying the Moroccan attack time and space.
Palestine were expected to defend resolutely and they did that for first third of the match. Morocco were relentless in their pressure of the Palestinian defence and forced turnovers and poor decisions. El-Berkaoui shot wide from close range following a Moroccan counter in the fourth minute was a sign of things to come.
Three minutes after that the captain, Abdelatif Bahdari, gave away the ball in the box and needed the alertness of goalkeeper Amr Kaddoura to save his blushes. The stand-in goalkeeper timed his run out of the box perfectly and deflected Bencharki’s effort wide.
Bencharki would be the protagonist several times in the first half for his wastefulness in front of goal. In the 31st minute, a wonderful strike by Mohamed Nahiri deceived Kaddoura whose punch wasn’t strong enough to stop its goalward progression. A clang off the bar ended Palestine’s valiant resistance.
Al-Fida’i were left hoping for a miracle after that- and there were two close calls in the first half. A yellow card on Mohammed Chibi went to a VAR decision but there was no red card forthcoming. Late in the first half, play continued in an offside situation and Mohammed Rashid eventually had the ball in the net, much to the misplaced delight of the fans at the Al-Janoub Stadium.
Things did not get better for Palestine in the second half. In the 53rd minute, Mohamed Chibi’s excellent cross found Abdelilah Hafidi who ghosted in to double the scoreline after being kept onside by Abdelsalam Salama. Ten minutes later, Hafidi- who along with the other goalscorer Mohammed Nahiri featured against Palestine in 2016- took advantage of a backpedaling Bahdari to make the score 3-0.
A senseless push by Ahmed Qatmish on Sofiane Rahimi resulted in a deserved penalty and Morocco captain Badr Benoun made it 4-0 from the spot.
Palestine did have their best choice late in the game from their first corner. Seyam’s initial kick was cleared but fell to Mohammed Darweesh who clipped the ball into the box to a wide open Mohammed Saleh who headed comically wide of goal.
A 4-0 loss leaves Palestine with a lot to fix before their next encounter but they can take heart in the fact that their most difficult game is now behind them.
What I liked: It is hard to find positives in a 4-0 loss but Yaser Hamed Mayor, who is currently without a club, was the best player on the pitch tonight.
What I didn’t like: Makram Dabboub needed to be more proactive in trying to stem the bleeding. Palestine could not have been expected to get a result tonight in the face of superior opposition and unfortunate extenuating circumstances. The inexperience of their debutants had a direct hand in the first and second goals. Only after the initial fourth goal was chalked off by VAR did Dabboub make use of his substitutions.
It was not all the manager’s fault. We knew we were in for this type of game and four out of the five defenders simply did not have their best game. Salama was at fault for the second goal, keeping Hafidi onside. Bahdari practically rolled out the red carpet for him to score the third goal. Qatamish lost his head to give up the fourth goal. Mohamed Saleh was nervous and error prone throughout and Palestine’s best chance to score fell to him to cap off a miserable night for everyone involved.
Man of the Match: The Moroccan Fans were excellent. This was perhaps the best atmosphere of Round 1. They showed their love for Palestine on multiple occasions- either joining in with the small Palestinian contingent or starting their own songs.
What’s Next: Palestine will face off against Saudi Arabia on December 4th at the Education City Stadium. Kickoff is set for 9 PM Jerusalem Time.
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