By Samindra Kunti in Doha
January 17 – On the eve of their second Group B match with the United Arab Emirates, Palestine manager Makram Daboub said his side will draw lessons from their lack of focus in the heavy defeat against Iran, but remained confident of his team’s chances to make the round of 16.
The Palestinians were the centre of attention in the lead-up as well as during their curtain raiser against Iran, but a goal from Karim Ansarifard within the first 75 seconds extinguished their game plan and hopes of getting a positive result.
Palestine conceded the first two goals all too easily, suggesting that they lacked focus, overwhelmed by the war in Gaza and the emotional fallout at the Asian Cup.
“No coach would want the same scenario from the Iran match, the match against the United Arab Emirates is a new match and it is very important for us,” said Palestine manager Daboub.
“The lesson learned from Iran is to enter any match with complete focus. We lost focus at the start. It is what is. Iran is a very strong team and among the candidates to win the cup. Hopefully, we will be more focused and mentally ready.”
He added that his side had been “overzealous and overexcited”, but that Palestine can still qualify with two matches remaining.
Four years ago, goalless draws with both Syria and Jordan were not enough for Palestine to get out of the group. “Our chances stand,” offered Daboub. “The next match is the most critical so now all our focus is on the United Arab Emirates – to get a positive result and get momentum.”
On the back of good results in the run-up to the tournament, including a draw with Saudi Arabia and a narrow defeat against Australia in World Cup qualifying, the Palestinians were full of confidence going into the encounter with Iran.
“Frankly speaking, we were not afraid of the Iranian team – they have excellent players and all the teams know that,” said captain Musab Battat.
“This is football and our focus is on the United Arab Emirates. We are not going to underestimate the UAE team. This match will not be as difficult as the Iran match and hopefully, victory will be ours.”
With the war in Gaza and the Israeli onslaught continuing, the minds of the players and the backroom staff often drift to the conflict, but messages from home lift their mood and in return good performances from the team, leveraging their unique position, could offer a ray of light for Gazans and Palestinians around the world.
“Every player is in contact with his family and his friends,” said Battat.
“Every family was keen to raise our morale and provide us with motivation and encouragement. We shouldn’t dwell on the first match. We still have two matches ahead of us. We need to approach them with complete focus and achieve our focus which is qualification.”
The UAE opened with a 3-0 win over Hong Kong. If they beat Palestine and Iran beat Hong Kong then both winners will be guaranteed progression to the knock out rounds, leaving Hong Kong and Palestine chasing one of two best-placed third in group slots.
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