|Exploited: Jordan found Palestine's weak link en route to a 5-1 victory|
The great thing about Jamal Mahmoud's style of play is that Palestine never played afraid. Against superior West Asian opponents, Palestine was always in the match, often times taking a proactive attacking approach. In fact, Palestine rarely lost by more than the odd goal during Mahmoud's tenure. In fact, many losses could be chalked up to the fact that Palestine didn't have an out and out striker of repute. The team also evolved and improved from one that made many mistakes to one capable of going five straight games without conceding.
Given these developments, Palestine expected to be able to nick a result in their final two group games against Jordan and Iraq.
Unfortunately, the mastermind of the Palestinian revival was in Qatar commentating on games as opposed to managing in them. Enter Ahmed El Hassan, the PFA administrator charged with leading the side at the Asian Cup.
Not much was known about Ahmad El Hassan before he took the position and I am not sure we know a whole lot about him now. Most his previous coaching experience came in Iraq his brief spell in charge of WBPL side Hilal Jericho ended in disaster with his team becoming known for conceding goals at an alarming rate.
The warning signs were there for all of us to see. Palestine were sloppy against Saudi Arabia in a 2-0 loss and weren't a whole lot better in a 3-1 win over Vietnam three days later.
In December, sloppiness gave way to blandness. Palestine were not interested in attacking in games against Uzbekistan (L 0-1) and China (D 0-0).
Worse even was that Ahmed El Hassan did not know how to deploy his players effectively. His final squad for the tournament ended up being two players short of the maximum 23 signaling a disinterest in exploiting teams using a vast array of different options.
Although, Palestine were expected to lose against Japan there was a clear misunderstanding on how to approach the game. Palestine were overwhelmed by Japan's attacking fullbacks and a gap in the middle of the pitch was exploited over and over by the Blue Samurai. Javier Aguirre had done this before while in charge if Mexico a more prepared coach would have known how to prepare for this.
In this game there was no need for a player like Abdelhamid Abuhabib who needs space, time, and service to be effective. Instead an added physical presence in the shape of Musa Abu Jazar or Hisham Slahe should have been deployed. Japan's first two goals came as a result of this space being exploited.
On the wings, a midfielder with better defensive ability should have been played. Amour's attacking prowess was never really on display here. Jaka Ihbeisheh or Husam Abu Saleh would have been a better choice to help keep Japan at bay. A better tactical approach could have meant a more forgiving scoreline.
Losing to Japan or even Iraq isn't a horrible result. What was unforgivable was the self destruction at the hands of Jordan. Going into this game, Jordan was 0-2-8 under Ray Wilkins they handy scored five goals in his entire tenure and would not score a goal in their other two group games. Ahmed El Hassan conspired to make Jordan look like Japan over 90 minutes. The first goal excepted, each one of Jordan's goals was the result of a Palestine not being set up properly.
Palestine had possession in this match but in the first half they didn't have the weapons to exploit it. Mahmoud Eid was left on the bench as was Ismail Amour. It seemed for thirty minutes that Palestine and Jordan would be headed for 0-0.
Then Jordan found Palestine's weakness. Tamer Salah was the least experienced player on the pitch and did not inspire confidence in his appearances as an over age player with the Olympic team in the Asian Games.
Going down 3-0 in the space of 12 minutes before the halftime whistle forced Ahmad El Hassan to bring on Ismail Amour for Husam Abu Saleh. Palestine immediately found Jordan's weakness and could have scored on multiple occasions. It wasn't until the strange substitution of Ashraf Nu'man in the 75th minute did the score really get out of hand.
In the mixed zone Raed Fares spoke of his disappointment in the players selected to play in this match. Stating that Palestine would have stood a better chance at winning if he, Khaled Salem, and Khader Yousef had been played. He was probably peeved at being left out in favor of Mus'ab Al-Battat at right back but he did have a point. Why was Palestine's most capped outfield player- Kahder Yousef- left out of the side? Many defensive issues were solved in the next game against by playing Khaled Salem at center back as opposed to Tamer Salah, was El Hassan unaware of his ability?
I also found there to be a disconnect between the defence and the holding midfielders which often resulted in the team booting the ball as opposed to building an attack and retaining possession.
In my dealings with him it never seemed that Ahmad El Hassan ever had a handle on this team. When managers walk into a room they usually have a presence and can command a manner of respect or recognition. El Hassan was like a ghost and his management style was erratic. There was no real schedule for team activities outside of trainings and meals. Top class teams watch tape and analyze their opponents endlessly- I saw no evidence of this during my ten days with the team.
El Hassan tried to present himself as a hard man from the outset dropping players he claimed showed a perceived lack of respect to the team (Omar Jarun, Hilal Musa, and possibly Javier Cohene/Daniel Kabir). During the tournament he had Abdallah Jaber shave off the stars in his hairstyle but when his authority was really tested he could do nothing. Palestine was fined $1000 for smoking in the dressing room and when Ashraf Nu'man stormed off to the dressing room after being substituted, El Hassan claimed that the player needed to go to the toilet.
Outside of getting his tactics wrong Ahmad El Hassan is guilty of failing to create an professional environment that could foster success.