Palestinian champions revel in success

Football followers in Jerusalem have been in celebratory mood ever since, just a few days ago,  Hilal Al-Quds completed their victorious campaign in the fourth edition of the national league: the Palestine West Bank League Division A. Runners-up on two previous occasions, the capital team came out on top this time, and there can be little doubt that their triumph this time round was richly deserved.

FIFA.com takes a look at the side’s journey to the top and talks to the coach and players of the newly crowned national champions.

The road to victory
Having lost out to Markaz Shabab Al-Am´ari last season on goal difference, Hilal Al-Quds were more determined than ever to lose their ‘nearly-men’ tag and win the coveted championship. Indeed, pre-season preparations were certainly intense, with those efforts reaping dramatic results early on in the shape of wins in all nine of their opening matches. The statistics from the first half of the season were as impressive as the results, with the boys from Jerusalem scoring 27 times and conceding only two goals in reply.

These lofty standards proved impossible to maintain, however, and the next four games brought Hilal three draws and a loss to eventual runners-up Shabab Al-Khalil. Yet far from dampening the squad’s spirits, these setbacks only strengthened their resolve, and they stormed back with a string of victories to take the title with 45 points from 18 games - eight clear at the top of the table.

A tale of two coaches
Though it is clearly unusual for a team to end up champions after switching coaches midway through the title race, that is exactly what Hilal Al-Quds have managed. At the start of the season, national team boss Jamal Mahmoud was at the helm, but the pressure of his international commitments forced him to step down, leaving the club with a difficult situation on their hands.

It was at this pivotal moment that the club’s management turned to former player Khadr Abeed, who was at the time coaching second-division side Ahli Al Khalil in their bid to make it to the top flight. Abeed took on the job whilst continuing to advise his other club, somehow managing to help guide Ahli Al Khalil to promotion and his new charges to the Division A title in the same season.

“I couldn’t leave my side in the latter stages of their bid for promotion,” said the man himself on his dramatic achievement. “But when Hilal approached me and asked me to see them through the final stages of their league campaign I accepted straight away.

“Hilal were a fantastic side this season so it wasn’t hard to get them the win,” he continued, modestly. “There were a few things we had to address and, once that was done, we imposed ourselves and started scoring freely, notching up one win after another until the end of the season.”

Everyone knows that winning the title is first and foremost down to Jamal’s efforts. He prepared the side and was with them for more than half their games.
Coach Khadr Abeed pays tribute to his predecessor, Jamal Mahmoud

Abeed was also quick to give credit to his predecessor Mahmoud, who he once played alongside at Jordanian club Al Wahdat: “Everyone knows that winning the title is first and foremost down to Jamal’s efforts. He prepared the side and was with them for more than half their games, so it’s impossible to deny his role in things. I have a strong relationship with him, so taking over from where he left off wasn’t hard.”

The cornerstone of Hilal Al-Quds’ campaign was their impressive ability in front of goal, with the club finishing the season on a tally of 43 goals at an average of 2.4 per match. They also boasted the division’s 14-goal leading scorer, Mourad Alyan, who struck nine of his total in the first six games of the season.

“It was quite an achievement,” said Alyan of his team’s campaign. “We finally won the title after narrowly missing out twice. We wanted it from the very beginning and we set out to play attacking football. I scored my goals thanks to my team-mates’ support and all the hard work and determination we showed over the course of the season. Next season, we hope to get even better and keep hold of the title.”

But what would a prolific attack be without a strong defence behind it? At the heart of Hilal’s rearguard is Palestine international goalkeeper Abdullah Saidawi, who managed to keep a clean sheet in ten of his 18 appearances.

“Scoring is important but you have to keep your goal protected too, especially in the crunch games,” said the 32-year-old shotstopper, whose team conceded just ten times. “The other defenders and I really gelled as a unit. Letting in just ten goals in a season is a pretty impressive feat, I reckon.”

“Anyway, I’m very pleased with the title,” Saidawi went on. “It’s the result of hard work from everyone and it will give us the self-belief we need to defend the championship next season.”

Leading from the front
He might only have scored three goals, but team captain Lafy Fady can lay claim to being the most important member of the team. After a career that took in stints at major Jordanian sides Al Wahdat, Al Faysali and Shabab Al Ordan as well as a spell playing for Riffa and East Riffa in Bahrain, the veteran striker arrived at Hilal in 2010 to assist his younger strike-partner, Alyan.

“We won the title,” said the delighted skipper, “but it was only after a tough struggle, especially in the final stages of the season. The closer we got to winning the harder it was!”

Fady also had a kind word for the team’s many supporters: “I’d like to say how pleased I am to be able to make the fans happy. They’ve waited so long. We won’t rest on our laurels though. There’s more to come!”

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