Palestine players
Palestine players listen to their coach Noureddine Ould Ali during a training session in Sharjah on Saturday. Image Credit: AFP

Sharjah: Syria will leave nothing to chance as they aspire to collect full points in their opening match against Palestine at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the Sharjah Stadium, on Sunday.

Having lured Bernd Stange out of retirement, the ‘Qasioun Eagles’ will now be hoping the German can chart an extended campaign for them as they take on a lower-ranked Palestine in their Group B opener.

Syria impressed in the qualifiers of the 2018 Fifa World Cup, losing 2-3 to Australia in the Continental play-off and Stange was left hoping his experienced team can ride on past experience to pick up the three points on offer.

“No one in our team is arrogant to say that we are here to win the tournament. There are many other teams including sides like Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran and Australia who have all played in the Fifa World Cup in Russia. We have a young group and we want to go as far as we can in this tournament,” Stange told media on Saturday.

“Our first objective, however, is to take the full points against Palestine. And as far as winning the tournament goes, we can safely say that Iraq has shown us all that such a feat is possible. There is a lot of positive pressure on us from the millions of troubled Syrians who want to have something to smile about. We are here to try our best and give them this reason to smile,” the German added.

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 another two in 1996 and 2011.

Palestine’s Algerian coach Noureddine Ould Ali refused to admit that his team were the underdogs at this competition. “Like all other teams, we too are not here on a picnic,” Ali said at the pre-match conference on Saturday.

“The Palestine team has done all preparations to ensure an exceptional match against Syria as this encounter will open doors for our side. We will announce our arrival on the Asian stage,” he added.

Since taking over Palestine in April 2018, Ali’s record with the national team has been on par with five wins and losses and an equal number of drawn matches. One of the advantages for the coach is the presence of at least nine players who are playing in professional leagues around the world.

“We respect Syria and we admit that they have a right to be self-confident as they have achieved some strong results in recent months. It will be a toughly-contested match. We are here to play good football and you will see the plan on the pitch tomorrow,” Ali promised.

Now ranked 99, ‘The Lions of Canaan’ lost all three group games conceding eleven goals and scoring just one at their AFC Asian Cup debut in 2015 in Australia. “2015 was totally different as we didn’t have the experience. We have learnt with time and the fact that we have ten players from that squad can only help us as a team to do better in this edition,” he added.

TODAY: Watch the match!!!

8pm: Palestine v Syria (at Sharjah Stadium)