Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Palestine 1 : 2 Bahrian (2nd Leg Olympic Qualifier)

Khaled Salim fires Palestine ahead. More pictures here.


Palestine Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Toufic Ali (GK); Aslieh, Barghouthi, Abu Kweik (C), Salameh; Hicham Ali, "Al-Koori"; El-Khatib, Mearry, Abuhabeeb; Salim


Recap: The match unfolded with a 10 minute period with both teams feeling each other out. The equilibrium did not last long, Palestine began frustrating Bahrain in midfield and quashing any attacking move with a precisely executed offsides trap. If there was any pressure to the occasion you could not sense it in the performance of the team. Ali El-Khatib had the first shot on goal when his 30m shot stung the palms of Bahraini goalkeeper Ashraf Waheed. Palestine launched a furious counter attack down the left flank after a Bahraini corner four minutes later. Khaled Salem's pinpoint cross found Fayez Aslieh 2 meters out but his touched failed him and he skied his shot.

Other than winning two corners- Bahrain failed to create much of anything. Just as it seemed that they would settle for a 0-0 draw going into the second half- Hicham Ali sprung up in midfield, drove to the byline, and then crossed to Khaled Salem. The big striker controlled the ball, warding off several Bahraini defenders. His shot, hit on the turn no less, was perfectly placed into the bottom corner of the net. At 2-0 it seemed Palestine was headed for the Final 12 of AFC Olympic Qualifying.

Whatever Bahraini manager Salman Sharida told his team in the dressing room it lit a fire underneath. Al-Ahmar started the second half by throwing everyone forward, Palestine was caught off guard but seemed to survive a shaky first five minutes. A long ball played into the path of Deya Said landed behind the defence, Toufic Ali who had gone over 320 minutes without conceding, charged out of his goal and failed to reach the ball before Said who gleefully rounded him and several desperate defenders. A cheap goal leveled the score but it was still 2-1 on aggregate with 35 minutes to play.

Bahrain was buoyed by this display of Palestinian generosity. The young Fursan needed an intervention at this point to avoid their heads from dropping. Bahrain with players like Rashed Al-Hooti and Waleed Al-Hayam brought a wealth of experience to their side. These players are part of a well-established senior squad and knew they were still in this game with 45 minutes to go. Bahrain exploited a goalkeeping error and a defensive error on the second goal and did not do much else other than ride out the final thirty minutes.

Palestine's squad lacked experience at the top level and exhibited naivety in their approach to the second half. You can criticize the timing of Al-Talili's substitutions but this comes down to how your players perform in pressure situations. After the first goal, Palestine were in a daze it took them 15 minutes to find themselves again. We might be writing a different story if Khaled Salem didn't slice the post in the 62nd minute or if Ali El-Khatib or Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb had done better with later chances. Football can be cruel and for the 10,000 fans at Faisal Al-Husseini it was just one of those days.

What I liked: The first half, Khaled Salem's goal was amazing!

What I didn't like: The flat showing during the first 15 minutes of the second half. Palestine wilted not under pressure but under the weight of two critical mistakes.
The politicization of the game was even more disgusting, I'm sick and tired of seeing the faces Rajoub, Abu Mazen, and a dictator to be named later adorning the stands of our stadiums. To make matters worse the Bahraini players paid tribute to their brutal dictator by standing next to one of the pictures. I am embarrassed for us, the Football Association, and most of all the Bahrainis who are being tortured and oppressed, including but not limited to Alaa Hubail, Mohammed Hubail, and Sayyed Mohammed Adnan.

Reasons to be Optimistic:
  1. Just think how far this team has come from the Asian Games. A year a go we didn't have any bright young prospects on the horizon, now we can speculate on the futures of Abu Kweik, Hicham Ali, Abuhabeeb, Ali El-Khatib, and Khaled Salim.
  2. Up until two years ago Palestine's FA had an $870,000 budget, they now have a $6 million annual budget. It has helped build a stable domestic league and rejuvenate downtrodden men's, women's, and youth national team programs. But $6 million is a sliver compared to what Bahrain receives. The probably get that amount from a kit sponsorship alone. The fact of the matter is Palestine has some of the best raw talent in the AFC. If we had the funding of a GCC nation we would be serial World Cup participants (or a the very least, in the final round of qualifying).
  3. It's the Olympics. Nobody cares about the Olympics, nobody remembers great moments from past tournaments, and it really does get lost in all the hoopla over swimming and athletics. If you gave me the choice I much rather be at a World Cup or Asian Cup. The Olympics are the redheaded stepchild of International Football.
  4. World Cup Qualifying starts in six days!