Rapid Reaction: Palestine 2:0 Sudan (Pan Arab Games)
Starting XI (4-4-2): Saidawi (c); Harbi, Dheeb, Al-Masri, Abujazr; Zatara, Kawre', Khader Youssef, Ali El-Khatib; Amour, Alyan.
Substitutions: Harbi <-> Abu Saleh / Alyan <-> Khaled Salem / El-Khatib <-> Fares
What it means: Jordan's 0-0 draw against Libya allowed Palestine to finish second in the group and advance to the semifinals over Sudan (by virtue of the goals scored tie breaker). There was some controversy in giving Group C two semifinal berths. Critics wanted the best runner-up to advance as based on results against the top two opponents in each group. Well there should be no controversy because Palestine has more points (3- eliminating the point won against last placed Libya) than Saudi Arabia (1) and Qatar (2). Palestine will face Bahrain in the semifinals (Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass 1430 GMT) on Tuesday.
Recap: Palestine needed goals in order to have any chance of advancing and came out looking to score them. Palestine's speed and dexterity on the wings gave the Sudanese defence fits; Imad Zatara was the protagonist in Nasereldin Moussa's sending off forcing the player to commit two reckless challenges. Ali El-Khatib put Palestine 1-0 up three minutes later but only after Ismail Amour had hit the crossbar twice (his second shot was parried by the keeper onto the bar).
The first half dominance was stark- Palestine created multiple scoring chances whilst Sudan headed into the dressing room without even an attempt on goal. The inclusion of Mohammed Marhoum for Sudan helped them come back into the match but with a numerical disadvantage the Desert Hawks could not fully exploit his menacing pace.
For all their dominance, Al-Fursan were struggling to put away chances- Murad Alyan should have done better with a header while Imad Zatara saw a shot hit the underside of the post and bounce out. Amour would make sure Palestine would not live to rue its chances conjuring up the goal of the tournament with a lovely chip. Sudan pushed forward in desperation for the final half an hour and Palestine- in search of an insurance goal- should have had at least one after Amour (twice) and Khaled Salem failed to beat Akram Salem in one-on-ones.
What I liked: The team's off the ball movement was excellent probably the best I have ever seen it. For the past five years it seems as if the team was divided into an attacking zone and a defending zone. Not anymore, everyone tracks back and presses for the ball, the full backs make over lapping runs- it's a joy to watch. Palestine set the tone for this game from the kickoff it needed a win by two goals and got it relatively comfortably.
What I didn't like: Palestine must start finishing off its chances if it wants to play in the final. Amour missed two easy chances at the end of the game after his goal.
TV Production: For whatever reason Ali El-Khatib and Abdullah Saidawi's names flashed on screen today with yellow cards next to them. Against Libya the production crew determined a ref's yellow card was for Murad Alyan (it was for the Libyan defender who kicked the ball in the stands as to allow Samir Aboud time to run back to his goal). To add insult to injury these cards all appear on the Pan Arab Games's official website. If we are to follow that, both Murad Alyan and Imad Zatara would miss the semifinal against Bahrain. Following on that theme- the pundits were completely unprepared for a Palestine victory tonight. I heard that Al-Kass commentators said Palestine needed to score four goals to advance. In the Al-Jazeera studio they said the team needed three. The Egyptian fellow doing play-by-play showed off his arithmetic skills on air in the 70th minute and finally figured out, that as things stood, Palestine were going through.
Random Thoughts: Jamal Mahmoud has the best poker face, he is so stoic, so void of emotion- like a Palestinian Bob Bradley. It was nice to see him finally crack a smile after the final whistle.
What's Next: Palestine face Bahrain in the Pan Arab Games semifinal on Tuesday December 20th (Al-Jazeera/Al-Kass 1430 GMT).