Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Bernd Stange: Palestine's defence like 'running against a wall' as Syria's Asian Cup opener ends in stalemate

Goalless draw in Group B match leaves the Syrian manager targeting victory against Jordan on Friday to keep qualification hopes on track

Bernd Stange, the Syria manager, said it felt like his side were “running into a wall” against Palestine, after they were held to a goalless draw by their unheralded opponents in their Asian Cup Group B opener.

The point earned in Sharjah on Sunday night was Palestine’s first in their history of playing at this tournament. They had lost all their matches in their Asian Cup debut in Australia four years ago.

The draw against Syria also meant they avoided joining Bangladesh in an unwanted record, that of a country losing their first four matches in the Asian Cup.

Given that the Syrians had come so close to qualification for last year’s World Cup in Russia, they started this competition in UAE with high hopes.

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Although they fell short of expectations in their opening match, Stange, their German coach, said at least they had managed to avoid a shock loss, unlike Group B’s standout side Australia. Jordan, who face Syria next, beat Australia 1-0 in Al Ain earlier on Sunday.

“Who expected Jordan could beat Australia? That is football,” Stange said.

“It is the first game in the tournament, and this is why it is the greatest sport in the world. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.

“It is a big, big surprise: 88 per cent possession and 600 [passes], they lost a game. That happened. It was similar with us.

“We were running against a wall – but we did not lose. I am not happy with that. You have to win games. The next game is the most important.”

Stange praised Palestine’s organisation, and said his side could find no way through, even when they were down to 10 men for the last 20 minutes due to the sending off of Mohammed Saleh for two bookings.

“It is always the same problem if you face teams who are defending with 10 players, or nine,” Stange, the former Iraq and Oman coach, said.

“They are staying very compact. How can you run with big speed at this group of players? The only result you will achieve are counter-attacks, and make an easy goal for the opponent.

“It is very difficult to play this kind of opponent. We tried everything to get down the wings, and to get behind the defenders.

“We tried to win this game from the very first moment, but we are running against an extremely well-organised team.”

Noureddine Ould Ali, Palestine’s coach, said his side were proud to have made history.

“It was a historical point, the first point by Palestine in the Asian Cup,” Ould Ali said.

“We studied all the strengths and the strong points of the Syria team, and worked on that. The Syrian team is a strong team, we should not underestimate its performance, but I would say the Palestinian players were real men in the field.”

The best chances had fallen the way of Syria, with each of their highly-regarded strikers Omar Kharbin, the 2017 Asian player of the year, and Omar Al Soma, having sights of goal.

But Abdellatif Al Bahdari, the Palestine captain, led a plucky rearguard as they shared the points.

“Every player wishes to play against the best attackers in Asia,” Al Bahdari said. “Al Soma is so strong, but I managed to control him and stop him from scoring.”

Updated: January 7, 2019 12:36 PM

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