Palestine refuse to be downcast despite Asian Cup thrashing

AFP , Monday 15 Jan 2024

Palestine's coach is confident they will still reach the Asian Cup knockouts for the first time, despite being thrashed 4-1 by Iran in their opening game on Sunday.

Palestine s midfielder #09 Tamer Seyam celebrates with his teammates after scoring their first goal during the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup Group C football match between Iran and Palestine at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on January 14, 2024. AFP

The Palestinians conceded a goal after just 64 seconds as Iran launched their title charge in emphatic fashion in Qatar.

The match coincided with the 100th day of the Israel-Hamas war, the grim milestone adding extra significance to an occasion that went beyond football.

Palestinian flags were scattered among the crowd of nearly 28,000 at Education City Stadium, one of the venues for the 2022 World Cup, and their solitary goal just before half-time got the biggest cheer of the night.

Despite seeing his side well beaten, Palestine's coach Makram Daboub said: "We will regain our confidence and achieve our goal of reaching the last 16."

The Tunisian blamed "a lack of concentration" and "overexcitement" for their poor start to the game.

Loud cries went up for the Palestinian anthem before the match and the team's players put their arms around each other's shoulders.

A brief moment's silence was held before kick-off, the quiet punctuated by cries of "free Palestine".

Captain Musab Al-Battat said on the eve of the game that the players were determined to "put a smile on the faces of the Palestinian people" despite the team's difficult build-up.

Some players have lost loved ones in Israel's bombardment of the besieged, Hamas-run territory of Gaza, a response to Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel.

The Palestinian team have been forced to play matches and train overseas in the lead-up to their third Asian Cup.

The war began when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack which resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Hamas, considered a "terrorist" group by the United States and the European Union, also seized about 250 hostages, 132 of whom Israel says remain in Gaza, including at least 25 believed to have been killed.

Israel launched a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 23,968 people in the Palestinian territory, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

- Palestinian tears -

Palestine were chasing a first victory in their seventh attempt in the Asian Cup.

But they were behind after little over one minute, attacker Karim Ansarifard rattling the ball into the bottom corner for an Iran team who are among the favourites in Qatar.

Iran, who are pursuing a record-equalling fourth continental crown, made it 2-0 on 12 minutes when Shojae Khalilzadeh swept home unmarked from close range following a free kick.

The defender went to celebrate but then appeared to hold back, before he was congratulated by his teammates.

Loud cheers erupted on the rare occasions that the Palestinians, ranked 99th in the world to Iran's 21, went on the attack.

Iran looked like scoring every time they went forward and they made it 3-0 seven minutes before half-time, Feyenoord winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh playing in Mehdi Ghayedi to side-foot into the bottom corner.

But the biggest roar of the night came right on the stroke of half-time when Tamer Seyam headed in from close range.

The Palestinian pointed skyward in a muted celebration, tears in his eyes.

Iran scored a fourth soon after the break through Roma's Sardar Azmoun.

Palestine's next game is on Thursday against the United Arab Emirates and Daboub said that was now "critical".

"This was only an opening match today, there are still two to go," he said.

"We will try to fix the problems and come back and qualify for the last 16."

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