Doha – On an emotional night at the Asian Cup, Iran dispatched a brave-hearted Palestine 4-1 to take command of Group C.
Before kickoff, a moment of silence was held at the Education City Stadium ‘for the ongoing situation in Palestine’. This was always going to be a deeply emotional night for the Palestinian team amid the backdrop of war in Gaza.
Local fans wrapped themselves in Palestinian flags and wore keffiyehs, reflecting the wide support for the Palestinian cause in the region. The stadium belted out an emotional rendition of Fidai Biladi, the Palestinian national anthem.
Makram Daboub’s Palestinian side did not get a lot of time to contemplate everything that was going on around them because they fell behind after a minute to a Karim Ansarifard goal.
The veteran is one of few centurions in the Iranian squad, but plying his trade at Omonia in Cyprus calls had grown for his omission from the squad. Instead, he repaid his coach’s faith immediately.
It was a nightmare scenario for Palestine, who struggled to compose themselves. Did they have a plan B at all? It was nothing short of a miracle that they sent a functioning team to Qatar in the first place, but Palestine were in danger of disintegrating and needed to tighten up.
Iran however soon found the back of the net again with Shojae Khalilzadeh sweeping at the far post in the 12th minute, exposing Yasser Hamed yet again. The central defender had also been at fault for Iran’s opening goal.
This was simply all too easy for the three-time champions, who pinged the ball around against a Palestinian XI that was a shadow of the side that played so well against Australia in World Cup qualifying. When Palestine did gain a bit of a foothold, Iran struck again. This time, Mehdi Ghayedi dispatched a cool first-time finish, 3-0.
Just about everything went wrong for Palestine, but out of nowhere, they got a goal back, Tamer Sayem capitalising on a set piece, his thirteenth national team goal prompting wild celebrations in the stands.
A first goal at the Asian Cup since 2015, Palestine had something to smile about, but not for long. With Ansifard substituted, Sardar Azmoun got a fourth after the restart, tapping in from close range.
It was a sign of the gulf in class and resources that Iran could bring the AS Roma striker off the bench to gain some meaningful minutes and match fitness. Once again, Palestine’s defense had been questionable.
The underdogs were simply being outplayed by an opponent that in truth never needed to shift gears.
Daboub introduced his star player Odday Dabbagh and the presence of the Charleroi striker provided his team with more tenacity up front.
The Palestinians failed to exploit Iran’s increasingly sloppy play at the back, with several promising attacks ending in offside.
Alaa Hassan stung Alireza Beiranvand’s gloves with a rasping shot, but, ultimately, there was to be no second goal on a night that had demanded everything of a team playing as a symbol of hope. Palestine’s night almost ended in more despair when Mohammed Saleh was sent off in injury time for a late lunge on Azmoun, but the referee downgraded the punishment to a yellow card following an on-field VAR review – another big win for the AFC’s introduction of VAR.
Palestine’s wait for a first-ever win at the Asian Cup goes on but if proof of life was needed from this nation given the atrocities taking place in their homeland, it was given in abundance.
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