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...