Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

No goals but plenty of pride as Syria face Palestine in Asian Cup

Supporters desperate to see heroes in action as shock Australia defeat raises qualification hopes

Passionate Palestine fans cheer on their side in their opening Asian Cup clash against Syria. Pawan Singh / The National
Passionate Palestine fans cheer on their side in their opening Asian Cup clash against Syria. Pawan Singh / The National

Sharjah was gripped by football fever as thousands of supporters arrived for the eagerly-awaited Asian Cup clash between Palestine and Syria.

Outside the stadium was a sea of colour as fans of both sides queued up to catch their heroes in action in the UAE.

Both sets of supporters were in high spirits going in the ground, having been buoyed earlier in the day by Australia’s shock defeat to Jordan in the same group.

The match itself could not live up to the anticipation, as the Group B rivals played out a 0-0 stalemate.

But it is a result that keeps both teams in the running for a place in the knock-out stages of the competition.

Fans remained in optimistic mood after the final whistle blew on a game that produced no goals – but plenty of tension and excitement. Not least when Palestine’s Mohamed Saleh was sent off with over 20 minutes to go.

“I suppose it was okay in the end, you can’t complain when you get a draw when you are down to 10 men,” saif Palestinian supporter Khaled Sharaf, 17.

“Both teams played well but I am especially proud of Palestine digging in for a result when they had a man sent off.”

Syrian supporters Rislen Hammad, 44, and Manal Al Kassem, 41, offered their opinions too.

“I am proud of the team but I am equally proud of the support that the Syrian fans gave them, they were so loud and loyal,” said Ms Al Kassem.

The sky is the limit now as far for Mr Hammad.

“We can top this group now. Jordan beat Australia earlier but we’re playing them next. We will beat them, I am confident of winning the group and going far.”

The excitement for the game was so high that many were left desperately seeking tickets to the big match ahead of kick-off.

“I have queued for two days to try and get tickets for me and my boy,” said Chamil Al Akabani, a 41-year-old Dubai based businessman, who was anxiously trying to get tickets to see his native Syria in action.

“Me and my son Alan have been here since 9am on Saturday morning hoping we could get a ticket from someone. We have had no luck yet at all though,” he said, just minutes from kick-off.

They were not the only set of supporters outside the ground trying desperately to get a ticket.

Mohamed Tariq, a 19-year-old Syrian supporter was also desperate for a ticket.

Chamil Al Akabani, a 41-year-old Dubai based businessman, pictured outside the Sharjah Football Stadium with his eight-year-old son Alan. They had been waiting for two days in the hope of getting tickets to the game.
Chamil Al Akabani, a 41-year-old Dubai based businessman, pictured outside the Sharjah Football Stadium with his eight-year-old son Alan. They had been waiting for two days in the hope of getting tickets to the game.

“I’m excited for the match but I’m worried that we are not going to get tickets,” he said.

His countryman Mohamed Jlall, 24, was in better form despite chances of obtaining a ticket being slim.

“I don’t have a ticket but that won’t stop me from shouting for Syria,” he said, beating the drum he brought along with him.

“We’re going to win of course!”

Those who had tickets only had to worry about how the game would unfold once it kicked off - and supporters of both teams had sights firmly set on a crucial win.

“Syria is going to win 2-1, I am sure of it,” said Tammam Khouri, 36, who works for an oil and gas company in Dubai.

“This is an important first step for the team – we have to win.”

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His fellow Syrian Joseph Salin, 42, also believed that the match was going to bear fruit for his national side.

“It’s wide open now that Australia were beaten by Jordan,” he said.

“That blows the whole group wide open and I believe this is the best Syrian side since 1987 so it’s now or never.”

It was not all about the Syrian fans outside the ground however.

The Palestinian supporters were in full voice too with many people predicting a famous victory.

“We are going to do it,” said Ashraf Barwamawi, 46, vice president of a civil engineering company in the UAE.

He did add one caveat however.

“Inshallah,” he said.

Sami Khouri, 24, who works in the hospitality industry in Dubai, said that the match meant everything to him as a Palestinian.

“I really think we can do it but win or lose we’ll support them until the end,” he said.

Syrian fans were in full voice as their nation took on Palestine in the Asian Cup. Pawan Singh / The National 
Syrian fans were in full voice as their nation took on Palestine in the Asian Cup. Pawan Singh / The National 

“I know the players won’t let us down so it is up to us as fans to do our bit as well.”

Rami Bahdari, 26, said that he could not believe that Palestine were playing in his adopted home town of Sharjah.

“I was so lucky to get these tickets for the game,” he said.

“A lot of my friends missed on tickets, they are still outside the ground hoping someone sells them some.”

Mahmoud Maher, 43, was with his family decked out in the Palestinian colours of red, white, black and green.

“My family is here with me tonight and we are hoping to see Palestine win,” he said.

“If not we will settle for a draw but we won’t be beaten.”

In the end he had to settle for that draw, as honours were even in the first ever Asian Cup meeting between the two nations.

The game may not have lived up to the hype, but a point each means both Syria and Palestine remain in the hunt for cup glory.

Updated: January 6, 2019 10:36 PM

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