By Samindra Kunti in Abu Dhabi
January 15 – Jordan topped Group B on seven points with a hard-earned goalless draw against Palestine, a result that left Palestine’s fate in the balance in third place with two points.
Four years ago Jordan thrashed Palestine 5-1, but there was little danger of a hammering for the Palestinians as their compact 4-5-1 line-up frustrated Jordan for much of the game. They could also count on the return of key defender Mohammed Saleh after suspension.
A crowd that swelled with Jordanian and Palestinian supporters as the match progressed was treated to end-to-end football and a second half that had the Palestinians on the edge of their seats.
Despite Jordan having striker Musa Al-Taamari suspended, they seized the early initiative with three early corners and a volley on the turn from Ahmad Ersan. Palestine survived with a mixture of last solid defending. Al-Taamari had been involved in all three of Jordan’s goals so far with one goal and two assists. Belgian coach Vital Borkelmans will be pleased to see him back for the knock out round.
As Palestinians grafted their way into the game their midfield began to frustrate Jordan’s possession, looking for the counterattack and packing men behind the ball. They did force Jordan’s Amer Shafi to tip the ball over the bar from a corner in the 15th minute, while Jordan’s best chance came when Abdel-Rahman threatened with a long-distance strike just over the bar.
The Palestinians looked pleased to get to half time level as increasingly their vociferous fans created an electric atmosphere of anticipation at the Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium.
Abandoning their siege mentality, Palestine came out attacking and were nearly rewarded when a floating cross from full back Musab Battar found an unmarked Oday Dabbagh, but his header lacked direction.
Chances came and went as both Mahmoud Wadi and Abdallah Jaber had headers in the box, they were playing for their tournament lives with only a win guaranteeing them the next round.
But there was to be no repeat of last night’s drama in Sharjah where India lost by a penalty awarded in extra time to send Thailand through. Jordanian substitute Oudi Al Kara claimed a spot kick late on, but Iraqi referee Mohanad Eesee waved away his appeal.
In a nail-biting finale Palestine knocked on the door of qualification, but an unmarked Mahmoud Wadi was overly ambitious with a scissors kick and a late corner kick was, in the end, easily defended by Jordan.
The Palestinians were distraught after the final whistle, with coach Ould Ali sitting stunned on the bench and Wadi tearing up. But hope returned when a late goal from Tom Rogic in Al Ain against Syria for Australia’s 3-2 win handed Palestine a lifeline and a fighting chance to qualify. Palestinian football, like life in the territory, is clearly an emotional rollercoaster.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1702260769labto1702260769ofdlr1702260769owedi1702260769sni@o1702260769fni1702260769