From university halls to the Arab Cup for Palestine's Rashid

  • Mohammed Rashid talks about his transition from college to football

  • Midfielder scored his first international goal against Saudi Arabia

  • He believes the game against Jordan will be "decisive"

“It wasn’t my goal to become a footballer,” Palestine’s defensive midfielder Mohammed Rashid told when asked about his stellar performance against Saudi Arabia at the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™. Despite Rashid’s intense passion for football, the sport was not top of his priorities when he moved to the United States in 2013 to pursue a college degree in artificial psychology. Having earned his degree, Rashid was all set to start working in this specialty in the US. However, his career took a dramatic shift when he received a call-up to join the Palestinian national team ahead of the AFC U-23 Cup in 2018. That was followed by an appearance at the Asian Games in the same year, which in turn led to his debut with the senior team, prompting him to focus more on the beautiful game. "I didn’t pay much attention to football at first. Education was my main priority. I got my degree, and I was about to start a job. However, playing at the 2018 AFC U-23 Asian Cup and the at Asian Games was a major turning point for me,” the 26-year-old explained. The midfielder developed rapidly and returned to Palestine, where he first joined Al-Bireh and later Al-Quds Hilal. He then had a one-season stint in the Saudi top flight with Al-Jeel before moving to his current club, Indonesia’s Persib Bandung. Asked about his overseas experience and particularly his time in the Kingdom, he said: "The time I spent in Saudi Arabia helped me develop my game a lot."

Stunning strike

Rashid was the only Palestine player to linger in the media zone after the Saudi game, granting several interviews despite an exhaustion evidenced by his wearing one boot and holding the other in his hand. Rashid capped his outstanding performance against the Greens with a goal in the second minute of first-half stoppage time. He unleashed a stunning right-foot effort from 30 yards that flew past goalkeeper Zaid Albawardi into the top-left corner. The Saudi keeper had earlier saved a shot from Rashid in the 33rd minute from around the same distance, as the player alluded to when asked how he manged to find the back of the net. "Do you know how I did it?" he asked rhetorically: "Unlike my first effort, I hit the ball with my instep, which made it very powerful.”

His celebration was also a sight to behold. "After the goal, I celebrated by heading to the stands to thank my friend and team-mate, goalkeeper Rami Hamada, who was injured,” Rashid explained. "Rami told me before the game that he felt I’d score today. When I did, I immediately remembered that and wanted to motivate him to come back strong to the national team,” he added.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 26: Mohammed Rashid of Palestine poses during the Palestine team presentation prior to the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021 at DusitD2 Salwa Hotel on November 26, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Decisive encounter

Palestine were only nine minutes away from a historic victory over Saudi Arabia at the Education City Stadium, but an equaliser from substitute Abdullah Al Hamdan denied the Lions of Canaan what would have been a priceless win after their 4-0 loss to Morocco in their first match. "Beating Saudi Arabia was very important for us, because we wanted to bounce back after losing our opener to Morocco," he said. "But things didn’t go quite as we hoped, with several mistakes causing us to concede late on." The draw, which left Palestine bottom of Group C ahead of their meeting with Jordan, has made Palestine’s potential path to the knockout phase even more difficult "Everyone is looking forward to this game. Regardless of what happened against Saudi Arabia, our final group game against Jordan was always going to be decisive for us," Rashid said. "The game will be like a final for us – and for them as well. It’s a matter of a life and death, and we hope to win and go through."