Sunday, July 31, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
I only watched the team once before, and it wasn't in Palestine. It was a 'home' game in a very dull stadium in East Amman, that sucked. So this Palestine match was definitely going to surpass my previous experience.
I had plenty of time to soak in Ramallah in the days before the match. It is a wonderful blend of Palestinian culture and modern city-life with a vibrant diverse population. On the morning of match day, I grabbed some breakfast at Manara square and then went to take a 'service' taxi to Al Ram.
Right when you leave Ramallah, you are immediately greeted by the separation wall. The graffiti makes for some colourful viewing while your mini-bus rolls through the streets.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Starting XI (4-5-1):
Subs: Houssam Wadi 46' for Murad Ismail / Ali El-Khatib 55' for Mohammed Samara / Ashraf Nu'man 90' for Ismail Amour
Goals: Jakkraphan Kaewprom 18', Suchao 90+4' (penalty save)
Palestine: Mohammed Shbair, Majed Abusidu, Khaled Mahdi, Murad Alyan, Khader Yousef
Thailand: Suchao Nutnum
Recap: Bezaz sent out a team that was meant to contain and neutralize Thailand's speedy counter attack. In the first half, the plan by and large failed as Palestine were overrun and lucky to escape trailing only 1-0. The goal coming after Thailand's makeshift right back, Jakkraphan Kaewprom, drifted into the area and struck a shot that deflected past Bahdari and into the net.
What's Next: Palestine will face Thailand on Thursday in Al-Ram (7/28) they will need a win (by two goals) to progress.
Friday, July 22, 2011
What: 2nd Round AFC World Cup Qualifier (1st Leg)
Thursday, July 21, 2011
I spent the afternoon with my cousin who is a Thaqafi supporter. We drove around Tulkarem and he treated me to the best Knafa I've ever tasted at a sweet shop called AlMasa. Of course, football was the subject of a decent portion of our discussions. It was most insightful especially because he has followed the league from the inside for as long as he can remember. We visited Thaqafi FC afterwards then proceeded to the Municipality football pitch(main football ground in Tulkarem) where we found his rival team Markaz Tulkarem practicing. I sympathize with Markaz for their relatively poor background and they happen to be the team my father supported growing up. They were in the middle of a scrimmage and we sat and watched the team from the refugee camp kick the ball around.
Former international Fadi Saleem was on the pitch as was Olympic midfielder Thaer AlBana. I waited for a break in the play to have the gentleman sitting next to me call Fadi Saleem over for a brief introduction. We exchanged niceties and I praised his past contributions to the national team midfield and of course, we took a picture..
This is my first visit to Palestine in 6 years or so and I am able to look at it with more mature eyes now. The experience at the Jordan border and the drive through the West Bank hills gave me quite a feel for the military occupation. I'll save my political insights for other outlets. I did get an idea as to what our national team represents. It unites these cities, towns and refugee camps spread across the occupied territories as it draws players from them. Not only that, but the diaspora is also represented in the squad lineup. In that sense, it truly unites Palestinians inside and outside Palestine.
We are set for an exciting week, be sure to check out Paul's guest article below on Thailand...
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Thailand take on Palestine on Saturday at a new stadium and with a new head coach at the helm, but will anything change on the pitch? The signs weren’t good last week when the Elephants scraped a 1-0 win over lowly Myanmar; one day later a second-string side drew 1-1 against the same opposition. As usual, finishing was one of the major problems but the whole performance in the first game was hardly convincing. Coach Winnie Schaefer seemed far from impressed with what he saw in what was his first game in charge. The hugely experienced and successful German has only been in the job for about a month but already finds himself in a do or die situation. Football Association of Thailand president Worawi Makudi has rather short-sightedly demanded that making it through to the final group stage of qualifying is the minimum requirement for the new coach. So if the controversial chief is taken at his word then Schaefer could be looking for another job before the month is out!
Crucially for Palestine, and worryingly for Thailand, the latter hasn’t played a competitive match since the end of December; official FIFA Matchdays have come and gone without friendlies being organized, and the feeling of negativity amongst fans of the national side is almost palpable. Ask any fan about the current state of the national team and the words “crisis” and “going backwards” are likely to be heard; newspaper headlines scream the same after every match which doesn’t result in a win for Thailand, and the usual examples of recent “failure” are trotted out. Specifically, failing to get beyond the group stage at the 2009 SEA Games; being held to a 0-0 draw by the Maldives at the 2010 Asian Games, and exiting the AFF Cup also at the group stage at the end of the year.
But let’s look at those” failures” in a bit more detail. The SEA Games, a mini-Olympics for ASEAN countries, is a parochial little competition but highly regarded in the region. The football part of the games is an U23 affair and in the most recent addition in 2009, Thailand went out at the group stage after conceding two goals in the final few minutes against Malaysia to lose 2-1. That Thailand dominated the match and the fact that Malaysia went on to win the tournament were quickly forgotten as the media vented their collective spleen.
Mass amnesia also takes over where the 2010 Asian Games are concerned. The 0-0 group stage draw with the Maldivian minnows is dwelled upon; less talked about is the fact that Thailand made it out of the group, got through the last 16 by beating Turkmenistan in extra time before getting knocked out in the quarter-finals 1-0 by Japan. Again, Thailand was the better side for most of the match against the side that would go on to win the competition.
The AFF Suzuki Cup exit in December brought problems to a head in the national set up. The competition is contested by the eight best teams in Southeast Asia, and Thailand has been the traditional powerhouse over the years. It’s ASEAN’s Copa America or European Championships and is regarded as the most important competition on the calendar. After another disappointing group stage draw – this time 2-2 against Laos – Thailand went into their final group match against Indonesia needing a victory to be sure of progessing. At the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta – one of the most intimidating away trips in world football – Thailand dominated the match and deservedly took the lead halfway through the second half to stun the 70,000 Indonesians in attendance. But in the final ten minutes the same player, defender Panupong Wonsa, conceded two penalties both of which were successfully converted by Indonesia to win the game and send Thailand crashing out.
Coach Bryan Robson didn’t seem to have a future as coach after that, and after months of inactivity in the national team set up he eventually resigned in early June.
The appointment of Schaefer was generally welcomed by fans and media alike and the Thai Premier League mid-season break was extended to cover the whole of July in order to allow the new coach maximum time getting to know his new charges. All has not gone to plan for Schaefer though. One of his players, Anucha Kitipongsri, went AWOL from the training camp and later claimed that he had an injury and wouldn’t be able to play. In addition to him, first-teamers Sarayoot Chaikamdee, Suree Sukha, Ekaphan Intasen and Teerathep Winothai are all ruled out with injuries. Furthermore, two German assistants that Schaefer brought with him, Norbert Hauenstein and Frank Brasas, have already had to return to Germany; the first for private reasons and the latter because of a breakdown in contract negotiations.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Horrible Second Half
Palestine went ahead courtesy of a Husam Wadi screamer and dominated the first half. They emerged from the locker room to face an energized Afghan squad that found its footing in the midfield and equalized the match. The team's performance was disappointing to say the least, but thats not to say we were in danger of losing. On the contrary, Palestine almost went ahead on a few occasions denied by the post, crossbar and the failure of the referee to allow an advantage after a foul that left Murad Alyan in the clear. Whatever the result might have ended, the lack of cohesion and the vulnerability of the defense raised doubts in the heads of many as to whether we would be up to the Thai challenge.
Home Field Advantage?
We weren't only let down by the player's performance, the home field advantage we thought we'd enjoy in the Faisal Husseini didn't seem to help much. We mentioned before that for maximum effectiveness the stands should be packed...we need them packed! The fact the game was at 5pm didnt help in that regard. Hopefully the PFA learns from this and schedules the Thailand return leg later in the evening.
Explanations and Excuses
Right after the first leg, the coaching staff talked about how exhausted the players were after playing in the 40 degree weather. Mousa Bezaz also complained about how closely the two legs were scheduled together. While these could be valid reasons for the drop in performance, lets not forget that the Afghan's were exposed to the same conditions and arguably had it harder.
The player's complacency in the second half could partly be explained by the fact we were ahead 3-0 on aggregate. In slang terms, it was in the bag and there was no reason to push forward for more. We saw this phenomenon in the Olympic side's Bahrain playoff where they were celebrating by half time only to go down by two later. This hints at a lack of professionalism.
Charging at Wild Elephants
The reason we hoped for and expected a big result against Afghanistan is not because we belittle them but because we know how much tougher the next test is. While Thailand is no football powerhouse, it is still a traditionally strong Asian side and it would have been nice to go up against them with convincing results behind us. They just signed the very capable Winfried Schaefer as manager and he made his intentions for the Thai team clear. To quote him:
"The symbol of the Thai team is a war elephant, it puts fear in everyones heart, its unstoppable....when the players go out on the field, they cannot be afraid, they must go out like wild elephants"
Palestine is the first stop of this "stampede". Don't worry Winnie, we'll put you to the test!
We didn't pummel Afghanistan...so what? At the end of the day, we got through the first stage as expected and thats what counts. The team has plenty of time to build on the cohesion of the past few weeks and learn from those mistakes made. I hope one or two friendlies against South East Asian sides are scheduled.
Stay tuned to the blog and twitter in the coming weeks for updates on preparations and assessments of our opponent...