Preview: Palestine v. Bahrain (Pan Arab Games Semifinal)

What: Pan Arab Games Semifinal
When: December 20th, 2011
Where: Al-Gharafa Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Kickoff: 1430 GMT
TV: Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass

Previous Meetings:
16/02/2006 Bahrain 0:2 Palestine
02/09/2004 Bahrain 1:0 Palestine

For whatever reason, Palestine have a very good record against Bahrain. In three encounters, their only loss came in a game where Ramzi Saleh was ejected in the 19th minute- even then only a last gasp goal gave Bahrain the win.




Last Round:

Palestine 2:0 Sudan
Jordan 0:0 Libya
Bahrain 3:0 Iraq

Palestine qualified in dramatic fashion securing the two goal win they needed after Sudan were reduced to ten men. Their victory could have been more emphatic had they made the most of their chances (Palestine hit the woodwork three times) but with Jordan and Libya playing out a drab 0-0 the result proved enough.

The Opponent: Bahrain know first hand the ability Palestine possesses so the element of surprise will not be a factor in this game. Bahrain's manager, Peter Taylor, will also want to win this competition in order to ease the pressure and the likelihood of getting sacked. Bahrain look set to exit World Cup qualifying unless they can secure victory over Indonesia, an Iran win over Qatar, and an eight goal swing in the process. Al-Ahmar's Pan Arab Games campaign has seen them win their group- coming back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against Qatar. The 3-0 win over Iraq flattered Bahrain to say the least, Iraq were the better side and curious refereeing decisions played a big part deciding the outcome. That said, Bahrain do have the ability to trouble any team on the break and Palestine will have to neutralize that threat if they are to progress.

Suspensions The Pan Arab Games website shows Murad Alyan and Imad Zatara with two yellow cards. If that is the case then both will miss the semifinal against Bahrain. That said, I am pretty sure the information is based on the graphics that flashed up on screen and not an official match report. Murad Alyan and Imad Zatara did get booked against Sudan along with Musa Abujazr and Ismail Amour. The cards shown for Abdullah Saidawi and Ali El-Khatib (The camera did not catch the ref handing out either yellow) are questionable at best but will not matter with the slate being wiped clean after the group stage. The booking picked up by Alyan against Libya was actually directed towards an opposing player; who had kicked the ball into the stands to prevent a quick throw-in after the Libyan goalkeeper was caught in no-man's land. As for Zatara's card- one of our readers contacted him and said that he was shocked to hear he had been booked against Libya. Chances are that neither player will be suspended but we will have to wait on a confirmation.

Starting XI Jamal Mahmoud will have some decisions to make concerning his starting lineup. Both Ahmed Harbi and Husam Abu Saleh have played well at right-back picking up assists against Libya and Sudan, respectively. Harbi offers more defensive discipline while Abu Saleh can be lethal going forward. There might also be a question as to who plays at left back as well- Abujazr was composed despite playing out of position but Fares will most likely get the call due to his experience (although he is natural a right back). Mahmoud has also tinkered with the central midfield opting for Kawre' over Ismail against Sudan- expect him to go back to Ismail in order to provide added defensive cover. Impressively, only three players have yet to feature for Palestine at the Pan Arab Games- backup goalkeeper Toufic Ali along with Nadim Barghouthi and Atef Abu Bilal.

No Excuses: I can't believe how teams keep insisting they've sent their B-team to the Pan Arab Games. Somebody actually updated the tournament's Wikipedia page to show that Sudan, Libya, Jordan, and Iraq sent their "B-teams". The only teams in this tournament that sent weakened squads were Oman and Saudi Arabia- both sent their Olympic teams because of FIFA regulations. I understand this tournament not being prioritized by teams participating in the African Cup of Nations or World Cup Qualifying but please make the excuses stop!