Sharjah: Ten-man Palestine played out to an enthralling goalless draw against Syria in Group B action of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the Sharjah Stadium, on Sunday.
With Jordan going on top of the group with a shock 1-0 win over defending champions Australia earlier in the day, it was down to the Arab neighbours to have their say. However, besides a handful of chances – most of them from Syria – there was nothing to assert a difference as the two teams took their place ahead of the Socceroos with a point each.
With nearly 9,000 vociferous fans turning up at the Sharjah Stadium, the match had all the hype of a true entertainer. And it was Syria that rightly went on an all-out assault especially in those early stages when they should have opened the scoring.
Man of the match Omar Kharbin came up with a tearing run down the left in the very second minute and crossed only to see his captain Mouaiad Al Ajaan miss getting his head to the delivery. Five minutes later it was the 24-year-old Kharbin again who tapped a loose ball goalwards only to find it being cleared off the line by an alert Abdul Latif Al Bahdari.
Despite that initial early flurry of attacks that didn’t bring about any goals, Syria continued to dominate but without much success due to an equally-aggressive defensive line-up led by Al Bahdari. On the 27th minute, Kharbin was once again in the thick of action as he connected well with a header off a Osama Omari cross. But Palestinian goalkeeper Rami Hamada was equal to the task as he stretched fully to keep his goal intact.
With two minutes left for the half-time whistle, Saleh got his first yellow for a foul on Kharbin. After resumption, the Syrians managed to control the tempo of the match and were still unable to get past a focused Palestinian defence line. The strikers too played their part while waiting for the odd counter-attack and also helping in not allowing the Syrian strikers very little space to have a clear look at goal.
A minute after the hour, substitute Yousuf Kalfa went down the right and then shot goalwards instead of sending in a chip towards his skipper Al Ajaan. Palestine were reduced to ten when Saleh got a second yellow in the 69th minute, but ‘The Lions of Canaan’ showed true grit in defending to snatch a vital point.
With a Fifa ranking of 74, Syria has had five previous appearances in this competition starting with three successive ones in 1980, 1984 and 1988 followed by two more in 1996 and 2011. This is Palestine’s second entry into this competition following their debut in 2015 where they had lost all three group games conceding eleven goals and scoring just one.
Syria will now take on Jordan in their second match on January 10, while Palestine will be up against defending champions Australia a day later.
Syria x Palestine 0-0