|Palestine pose for a picture after landing in Maldives.|
What: 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier
When: March 28th, 2017
Where: Rasmee Dhandhu Stadium, Malé, Maldives
Kickoff: 5 PM GMT
Streams/TV: Link 1 // Link 2
2014 Challenge Cup: Maldives 0:0 Palestine
2012 Challenge Cup: Palestine 2:0 Maldives
Full preview after the jump...
Return to Competitive Action
After almost one year removed from their final game of World Cup qualification Palestine will once again take to the pitch with something meaningful at stake. The circumstances however are quite different, for one a place at the World Cup- which always seemed a bridge too far- is no longer on the table. Instead, a more realistic goal of reaching their second consecutive AFC Asian Cup finals is on the line. Palestine clinched their place at the 16-team edition three years ago on the very same patch of ground. Now, their path to an expanded 24-team edition in their UAE begins where their last journey ended.
Standing in their way are a respectable Maldives side who have a track record of making life difficult for their opponents at home. Also in the group are Oman, who are looking to qualify for the finals for a fourth time after appearances in 2004, 2007, & 2015 and Bhutan, who are looking to gain some much needed experience playing against more established nations.
Scouting the Opponents
The Maldives are led by an Australian Darren Stewart whose previous coaching experience was mostly in Singapore's top flight. He took over from Ricki Herbert who had failed to take Maldives to the next level registering only two competitive wins (against lowly Bhutan) in his year on the job.
There is a changing of the guard in goal, with the much lauded Imran Mohammed retiring in October of last year but things remain the same up top with Ali Ashfaq continuing to lead the charge for the islanders. Only four other players have notched more goals in Asian Cup qualifying .
Maldives nearly opened World Cup qualifying with a shock result. They frustrated Qatar for over 90 minutes before succumbing to a winner deep into injury time and it is expected that they will try and replicate that style of play. They will buoyed by the fact that previous iterations of this fixture held Palestine at bay. In their first encounter, Palestine dominated but could not find a break through until the 60th minute. In the last match, Palestine approached the tie with a conservative mindset and settled for a 0-0 draw.
The formula for a Maldivian qualification is straight forward- get six points from Bhutan and frustrate the more established opponents. A 0-0 draw would conceivably keep Maldives in the hunt until the third match day- an away trip to Oman.
After a year of playing more established teams in the shape of Japan, Jordan, Iraq, UAE, and Saudi Arabia the script has been thoroughly flipped. Palestine will no longer have the option of playing reactively as a point in this game will not sit well with the players or the fans back home.
As we witnessed against Yemen, Palestine will need to find a way to unlock defences that play with two banks of four and to do so they will need to field their best players (who are overwhelmingly of the attacking variety) in their best positions. Palestine did not do that against Yemen when they fielded a midfield of Darweesh, Yameen, and Shaban. Throughout qualifying, a crux of Draweesh and Tamburrini provided defensive stability but little going forward.
It will be interesting to see how Barakat tweaks his line-ups or if conservatism wins out.
Expected Line-up changes
Rami Hamadi's first cap and clean sheet should put to rest any lingering doubts concerning his readiness. The path back for Toufic Ali will be long and arduous but the lanky guardian has exhausted the patience of the coaching staff who have turned a blind eye to inconsistency at club level.
Barakat had opted for a back line that featured three regulars (Jaber, Dheeb, and Bahdari) along with a younger player (Mus'ab Battat). It was the first time Battat played in a game since last featuring against Timor Leste. He had began qualifying as the first choice right back before being supplanted by Alexis Norambuena.
Other question marks persist further up the pitch and it remains inconceivable that the aforementioned midfield triumvirate starts again.
Projected Lineup (4-4-2): Hamadi, Battat, Dheeb, Bahdari (C), Jaber; Seyam, Darweesh, Shaban, Cantillana; Abu Nahyeh, Pinto Islame.
Predicition: Palestine will need to be wary of Maldives but there is a evident disparity in terms of quality, experience, and recent form. FP Prediction -- Maldives 0:2 Palestine.