As the Asian Cup group stage is wrapping up, the eleventh day of the tournament has created a crucial scene with the matches between Jordan & Palestine, and Australia and Syria.
The match against Jordan was probably the biggest and most important in the history of Palestinian football. Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi has enjoyed a terrific atmosphere, unlike the rest of the tournament or the city, that seem to stick to its indifferent stance regarding Asian football’s top competition.
The stands filled with around eight thousand fans from both sides, in what was a match that was seemed like a family gathering. Fans cheered for both teams’ players alike, under the slogan “two countries, one people” while wearing red & white and black & white kaffiyehs.
The first half was a pacy show by both teams, as Jordan managed to test goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh twice. Palestine stood well on the pitch with the shift back for Musab Battat back to the right-back got close, but didn’t threat Amer Shafi's goal.
Meanwhile, Syria and Australia were battling each other for the second place. Australia’s forward Awer Mabil scored a classic goal in 41st minute, as Omar Khribin tied for Syria two minutes later after a deflection inside the box. On halftime, Syria was third, and Palestine last.
The second half was a completely different story. Palestine attacked and was dangerous, while Jordan tried to hold on to the ball. At the same time, Australia scored again and went to a 2-1 advantage over the Syrians through a goal by Chris Ikonomidis.
Palestine was attacking in waves, but weird changes by coach Nourredine Ould Ali couldn’t upgrade the teams play. Mahmoud Wadi, the Palestinian striker, almost scored in an impressive scissors kick, but Shafi stopped it well.
In the other match, Omar Al-Somah scored for Syria and made it 2-2, ten minutes from the final whistle.
In Abu Dhabi, Palestine tried more and more, won corner after corner, and the whole stadium cheered for them to score. But despite having all the chances, they didn’t score.
The match ended in a 0-0 tie, and as it looked Syria will finish third, but then a dramatic scenario took place: Australia scored their third goal, after an assist by Ikonomidis to Tommy Rogic. The Socceroos have won 3-2, and Palestine climbed a spot to the third place of group B, while Syria finished last. The Syrians summed up a horrific tournament that they would rather to forget.
Now, Al-Fidai will hope that at least two of the next game will finish with a draw:
Kyrgyzstan - Philippines, Vietnam - Yemen, Lebanon - North Korea, Oman - Turkmenistan.
A lot has been said about the Algerian coach of Palestine Ould Ali. Maybe with a different cast in the coach position, Palestine could have finished this game on the ground, without paying for the God of third places, as other teams in the competition do.
Mahmoud Wadi concluded the feelings after the match in the Mixed Zone: “Of course this is so frustrating. We were that close. My chance there was almost a goal. It’s hard because we received such remarkable support from our fans. Really, they have given us the strength to go out there and fight. Now we will wait, but thanks God for everything and for these fans. They mean the world for us”.