For the last couple of days, Palestine had been talking about its ten professional players who could not make the trip to Kochi. On Wednesday night, Ashraf Numan Alfawagra, one of its two players who were playing in foreign leagues, struck thrice as Palestine defeated India 4-2 in the international football friendly at the Nehru Stadium here.
Alfawagra, the 26-year-old who plies his trade in Amman’s Al-Faisaly Club in the Jordan League, had looked dangerous all through and scored in the 30th, 51st and 66th minutes — the second off a penalty. Hussam Abusalah had scored the other goal in the 47th minute.
But it was India which had impressed in the opening session, with Francisco Fernandes moving up nicely through the right flank and coming up with a stream of crosses to the home striker and captain Sunil Chhetri.
The host led 2-1 at the break with goals from midfielder Clifford Miranda and the versatile defender Syed Rahim Nabi who received the AIFF’s Player of the Year 2012, which came with Rs two lakh, just before the match began.
“It’s nice to see India play this way; our boys are playing good,” said Olympian O. Chandrasekharan, a star of the Indian team which won the Asian Games gold in the sixties, during the break. But his joy did not last long.
The Palestine midfield took time to settle down while India began rather aggressively — keen to make the most of its home advantage.
India went into the lead in the 17th minute which saw the 15,000-strong crowd roaring in joy. Denzil Franco plucked the ball from Mali Kaware and fed Alwyn George.
Alwyn raced forward and attempted a hard shot which was pushed away by goalkeeper Mohammed Shbair. Clifford Miranda quickly pounced on it and shot home, giving Shbair no chance.
Palestine struck the equaliser at the half-hour mark through Ashraf Alfawara, a lovely cross from the right from Abdulhamid Abuhabib finding him at the right spot. Goalkeeper Sandip Nandi could do nothing.
The host took the lead again through Syed Rahim Nabi in the 39th minute, off a Mehtab Hussain cross, just as the match appeared to be cooling down.
Crucial five minutes
But the match changed dramatically soon after the break with Palestine firing in two quick goals within the space of five minutes. Ashraf Alfawara worked his way nicely through the left and fed Abdulhamid Abuhabib. The midfielder relayed it to Husam Abusalah who made no mistake and the scores were level once again.
A little later, Nabi brought down Abuhabib inside the box. Ashraf Alfawagra made no mistake with the penalty. Ashraf Alfawagra was patient with his last goal, taking a couple of seconds to study the situation in the tense Indian box before pushing a slow one over a defender and into the goal.