Palestine up to the Challenge
|Palestine players salute Maldives fans and express solidarity with brethren behind bars|
I was most concerned about the opening match, especially with the training camp going (or not going) the way it did. Topping that off we were pitted against Kyrgyzstan, who nixed our challenge cup aspirations twice before, and whose manager boasted about playing 20 friendlies in the lead up to the tournament. I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the commanding, fighting performance on the pitch which led up to Abuhabeeb's stoppage time net ripper. Perhaps the extra competitive nature of the WBPL this year is to thank for that.
Jamal Mahmoud approached the Maldives game with the right philosophy, and to their credit, the Red Snappers gave the home fans a performance to cheer about. After the final whistle blew, the TV cameras captured the Maldives manager, team and fans holding back their celebrations until they got word about the result of the Kyrgyzstan - Myanmar match. It was one of those beautiful football moments when the stadium erupted.
Afghanistan was held to a 0-0 draw by Laos meaning rather than topping Group B (as had been expected) they finished runners up to face Palestine in the semis. We tee'd ourselves up for a Philippines semi-final and to be honest, I preferred it that way. Might as well duke it out early.
Afghanistan are a team that have prepared well and have some select players that can cause trouble. Their domestic league has notably developed since we last faced, and they've picked up a 2013 SAFF trophy on the way. They could be in a less than ideal situation with players unavailable due to the team bus crash, but I don't see that handicapping them too much.
Expect a tense 90 minutes with Afghanistan playing on the counter. I wouldn't venture to predict a scoreline just yet, but I would be surprised if Palestine's positive record against South Asian opposition was contradicted.