On Thursday’s Daily Football Show, the team spoke to Futbol Palestine founder Bassil Mikdadi to get the lowdown on the Socceroos’ next opponents.
Australia face 99th-ranked Palestine in Dubai in need of a win to get their Asian Cup title defence back on track after a shock 1-0 loss on matchday one against Jordan.
Daily Football Show: What does the national team mean to the Palestinian people?
Bassil Mikdadi: The team does mean a lot to people and I think now that they’ve had some really fantastic results in World Cup qualifying … and now on the really big stage at a tournament finals, to completely neutralise guys like Omar Al Soma and Omar Khribin … is something that fills people with a lot of pride.
The challenge for us is to get the average person to care about it, to get someone like my mum to care about it. I think we’re well on our way to doing that and if we can get another positive result and get out of the group, people can really start to take notice.
DFS: How does coach Noureddine Ould Ali like to set up his team? What’s his footballing philosophy?
BM: The major criticism of his style is he’s playing with the handbrake on and that has to do with a couple of reasons. The first is he’s heavily influenced by the Italian school and the style that won Italy the 1982 World Cup, so his primary concern is to neutralise the opponent first, shut things down in the opposition attack and take it from there.
We have to get a win, so how much he loosens that handbrake and lets some really good quality attacking players do their thing remains to be seen. I think against Australia, it’s going to be more of the same. We’re going to try and maybe get a point … I think from the coach’s perspective, we’re going to see more of the same.
One of the big concerns is the suspension to Mohammed Saleh and despite having an extremely talented squad, one that’s a lot better than the one that competed in Australia four years ago, there’s really no defensive depth and Saleh’s suspension is going to cause a crisis. I don’t know if we can just bunker in and challenge Australia to play crosses into the box because one of those guys that delivered us a clean sheet on Sunday (against Syria) is not going to be there.
DFS: How is the mood and the confidence emitting from the Palestine camp?
BM: Our biggest strength is that this younger generation has a great mentality and there’s no fear. I can tell you first hand that there was a genuine fear in some players four years ago when they took to the pitch in Australia … you could just see on that day, four years ago, that team fell apart the moment they conceded the first, and then after the second, they just quit basically and things went from bad to worse.
The great thing about this team is there’s such a confidence in their style of play. They’re a little upset about how the manager sets them up. This is a team that wants to play with a higher line. They realise where their shortcomings are.
They all want to play to attack and if they go down a goal, you’re going to see the players take the game to them. They’re going to advance their defensive line by 15, 20 metres and they’re going to try and take the game to Australia. They have the weapons to do that. They have two great overlapping full-backs that didn’t do that against Syria, but if they do, you’re going to see some genuine width to the side.
The attacking three and the attacking three in midfield can all play and they’ve got two great strikers. We really haven’t seen what this team can do and inside the camp, they want to show what they can do. Whether or not the coach will let them remains to be seen and I think we only will if Australia manages to score first and score early enough that Palestine has to go back and change the game plan a little bit.
DFS: Who’s the ‘Palestinian Messi’?
BM: I would hold back on saying ‘this guy’s going to be the guy’ and ‘this guy’s our Messi’ and I think that’s really the strength of the team, the fact that there is some mutual respect, despite the fact that there are a lot of different types of players that come from different types of cultures; half the team was raised abroad. The fact that there isn’t one guy means that everyone takes on responsibility for themselves and I think that’s a strength.
You can see that there’s a lot of mutual respect among the players and it’s a great team harmony. When one guy doesn’t start, typically he understands why. He says ‘the guy ahead of me is really good’. More than one player can do it and every player has confidence in their individual abilities.