|Javier Cohene Mereles opens his account on his debut.|
Early Saturday, Palestine saved face in the Peace Cup jumping out to a 2-0 lead over Chinese Taipei en route to a crazy 7-3 victory.
In the evening, the Olympic team kept Brazil at bay for 66 minutes in a game that showcased Rami Hammadeh's excellent goalkeeping skills.
Palestine managed to leave Manila on a high note, despite slumping to an ugly defeat to Mynmar earlier in the week. Many observers immediately fretted about Palestine's lofty FIFA rank (88th at the time of writing), but the fact of the matter is that Palestine was doomed to fall a couple of places by virtue of playing during this time. European and African sides are collecting more points thanks to qualification matches and a lot of Palestine's Asian counterparts are playing better ranked sides.
To fret about an arbitrary ranking now is silly, the goal should be to win points in Australia so that the ranking is boosted ahead of the AFC World Cup qualification draw. To play and lose is a blessing in disguise, it showcases your weaknesses and forces you to address them. Do I think there are tactical wrinkles that need to be cleared up? Yes- but the main reason for this loss was the fact that players were not match fit and had barely had an opportunity to train together.
Lest we forget, Myanmar is also a capable team. Raddy Avramovic is a good manager and going forward I think he could get this team to play like his Singapore teams did.
In any case, Palestine's win over Chinese Taipei did put some minds at ease. Al-Fida'i was up 2-0 within eight minutes. Debutant Javier Cohene Merelles struck from a corner and two minutes later Ahmed Maher finished off an Ahmed Harbi pass first time.
Cohene's day would be cut short as he was substituted after experiencing difficulty playing in the heat and humidity of Manila. Raed Fares took his place and Ahmed Harbi switched over to centreback and although Palestine were dominant in the first half (Hilal Musa failed to convert a first half penalty), the second half told a completely different story.
Palestine conceded a penalty in the 53rd minute and a combination of Palestine's lack of fitness as well as renewed Taiwanese confidence saw the match turn on its head. Chinese Taipei took a page out of Myanmar's playbook and launched rasping counters against an exhausted Palestinian defence. A goal in the 75th minute tied things up- and a goal in the 87th seemed to be the winner.
Staring the prospect of yet another embarrassing loss in the face, Mahmoud went to the only field player left on his bench- Abdesallam Al-Swerki and threw him on in place of Hilal Musa. The former Hilal Al-Quds manager then turned back the clock and had Abdelatif Bahdari play as an attacking midfielder.
Ahmed Maher found Abdelhamid Abuhabib for the equalizer to force extra time. In the additional period, Maher was on the receiving end of two assists from Abdelatif Bahdari. When all was said and done, Maher had scored four of Palestine's goals and Bahdari- after a seven year wait- had his first international goal.
Olympic Team Impresses
|Rami Hammadeh was impressive. Watch all his saves, here.|
Facing Brazil is always a daunting task. When I first heard that the Olympic Team was going to be facing a team stocked with talent from Europe's best clubs I feared the worst. That said, things played out quite nicely on Saturday night in Doha. Rami Hammadeh saved a first half penalty and kept the Brazilians at bay for 66 minutes- who needed another penalty to penetrate his goal. That said, a group of young guys, mostly developed in Palestine showed that they could carry out a disciplined, defensive gameplan against the best players in the world.
Losing 3-0 isn't a good thing but considering the fact that cash and resource rich lost to Qatar 4-0 might be evidence that Palestine's up and coming players might be very influential in 2018 World Cup Qualifying.
The Olympic Team will make their way to Incheon for the Asian Games and they will open up group play on the 14th against Oman before taking on Tajikistan and Singapore on September 17th and 21st, respectively.
The Senior Team will meet up again in October for a doubleheader against India and a match against Morocco. Jamal Mahmoud will have a lot to think about between now and then. Javier Cohene and Ahmed Maher are the only players that leave Manila with improved chances of making the trip to Australia.
The pressure for places will be on- foreign based players such as Cohene might declare their intent to play. WBPL players such as Obeidah Zbeidat, Adham Abu Rwais, and Ismail Amour will count themselves unlucky not to have taken part in these past games. Players with Olympic squad (Rami Hammadeh in particular) could also climb up the depth chart in the next month.