Highlights & Photos
Palestine Starting XI: Toufic Ali (GK); Fayez Aslieh, Mustafa Abu Kweik (c), Nadim Barghouthi, Ahmed Salameh; Ali El-Khatib, Mahmoud Salah "Al-Koori", Ahmed Mearry, Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb; Hazem Al-Raikhawy, Khaled Salem
Lega Pro Starting XI: Andrea Rosemi (GK), Rafaeli Pocino, Walter Zullo, Lors Tamonetti, Antonio Magli, Nicola Pizzo, Stefano Virnus, Deco Floquini, Antonio Vaca (c), Daniel Prato
Background: Over 25,000 spectators attended the inaugural game at Dura International Stadium, south of Hebron and witnessed the Fursan crush their Italian opposition 3-0. Many in the press have claimed that the team that was sent was Italy's Olympic Team when in fact it was a team made up of U-20 players plying their trade in Italy's third tier. The fact that the players showed up wearing the famous all-blue Azzurri kit only served to further establish the misconception.
Although Palestine had been in training camp for weeks before the match they went into this game without their manager Mokhtar "The Dinosaur" Al-Talili and four Gazan based players (Alaa Attieh, Mohammed Abu Dan, Mohammed Al-Sadoody, and Anas Al-Helu). The Dinosuar was not allowed to enter the West Bank under the arbitrary reasoning of Israel's occupying force. While the four Gazans were still with their clubs as the Gazan league only wrapped up action this past weekend. With a shorthanded squad, most were expecting the worst especially against such established, if in name only, opposition.
Recap: The match itself was a fairly open affair with chances for both sides to open the scoring. Antonio Vacca fluffed his lines inside the box by slicing the ball wide. One man intent on having a good showing was Khaled Salem, a player who did everything correctly in games against Thailand and Lebanon but failed to find the net. He forced a corner from Rosemi after only six minutes of play and missed a golden opportunity to open the scoring when he failed to connect properly with an Ali Al-Khatib cross. The Italians, for their part, responded with attacks of their but failed to test the lanky goalkeeper- Toufic Ali. The deadlock was broken on 22 minutes when Khaled Salem blasted a 35 yard free kick low and hard into the bottom left corner of the net.
The goal triggered euphoric celebrations in the stands and saw Palestine gain even more confidence. The situation was so dire for the Lega Pro Select team that a substitution was made in the 34th minute in an attempt to shore up the midfield.
The adjustment seemed to pay off for the Italians who started the second half by forcing Palestine to concentrate play in the middle of the pitch. The slower pace suited Lega Pro's game and they slowly started to come back into the match. Just as it seemed an equalizer was imminent Balata's Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb unlocked the Lega Pro defence with a fantastic through ball which Khaled Salem cooly finished to make 2-0 10 minutes after halftime. Lega Pro probably deserved a goal on the day, their technical ability was evident but they were overcome by the power and pace of Palestine's attacks. When a little more thought was needed in build-up play Abuhabeeb proved himself to be a very capable conductor. His fingerprints were all over the third goal as well when El-Khatib finished off a series of passes by blasting a stunning strike for the third goal. Lega Pro threw everything forward at that point but where stymied by the defensive duo of Barghouthi and Abu Kweik. Toufic Ali was also at the ready to sweep up anything that got past his front line.
Positives: A lot to choose from. Khaled Salem finally found his scoring boots, Abuhabeeb and Al-Khatib were adventurous and industrious, the defence kept a clean sheet, and the crowd was AWESOME. It is a great confidence boost for the players ahead of a winnable tie against Bahraind (June 19th & June 23)
Negatives: The match was heavily politicized by FA President Jibril Rajoub who made sure Fateh flags were flying in the crowd. Even more ridiculous where the giant faces of Fateh leadership gazing onto the pitch. To add insult to injury, Silvio Berlusconi's face was also included in the mural. It seems that the FA is oblivious to the fact that Berlusconi has declared that Israel should be allowed to join the EU and has rejected Palestinian attempts at statehood vis-a-vis a United Nations vote. If Rajoub wants to continue political life he should resign his post and do just that. Most of his antics reflect badly on the football fans in Palestine.
What's Next: The team is off to the UAE where they will undergo a three-day training camp (Gazan players in tow). They will then depart for Bahrain on the 18th, one day before the match is scheduled to be held. For their part Bahrain has wrapped up a training camp in Jordan where they managed a 1-1 draw against Jordan and wins over Shabab Al-Hussein and Al-Yarmouk. They also beat their Sudanese counterparts in Manama 1-0.