Rapid Reaction: Japan 4:0 Palestine (2015 Asian Cup)
Palestine Starting XI: Ramzi Saleh (C), Fares, Harbi, Bahdari, Jaber; Khader Yousef, Murad Ismail; Amour, Abuhabib, Nu'man; Eid.
Substitutions: Khader Yousef <--> Hesham Salhe 70' // Mahmoud Eid <--> Tamer Salah 76' // Ismail Amour <--> Husam Abu Saleh 83' -->-->-->
Cards: Ashraf Nu'man 43', Ahmed Harbi 45+1', Ismail Amour 60', Bahdari 68', Harbi 74' (sent off)
Goals: Endo 8' Okazaki 25' Honda 44' (p.) Yoshida 50'
Highlights and more after the jump...
Palestine fell to the defending Asian Cup champions in a fashion that most would have expected them to. The first half could not have unfolded any worse for Palestine. Japan's first real attempt on goal found that back of the net after Palestine's players failed to push up to press Endo. A quarter of an hour later Kagawa's creativity set up Okazaki for a fantastic goal to punctuate Japan's dominance of the game.
At 2-0 Palestine seemed to be aiming for halftime and a team talk and it should have finished that way only for the Qatari Referee to award a very soft penalty to Kagawa who seemed to be falling before any contact was made.
Honda stepped up to convert and Palestine were left to pick up the pieces of a truly shambolic performances. The second half didn't start to plan either, with Yoshida finishing off a short set piece with a powerful header. Down 4-0 and with the pressure off, Palestine did begin to show some signs of life and it seemed like they had pulled one back via Abdelatif Bhadari. Unfortunately, for the sizeable Palestinian contingent the big man's powerful header sailed just wide.
Ahmed Harbi's foolish yellow card left Palestine undermanned for the final quarter of an hour. Despite the setback, Palestine dug in and defended bravely. In the final five minutes of the game, Ramzi Saleh and his defence stifled the Japanese attack again and again and were greeted by rapturous cheers.
In the end, that might be the image that will stick with fans as they depart Newcastle tonight. Palestine were undermanned going in and were never going to win but they fought to the very end and won respect from all who saw how they responded to adversity.
What I liked: Ahmed El-Hassan was bold and assertive in dropping Raed Fares for Mus'ab Al-Battat. At wingback, the future is now for Palestine. The fighting spirit of the squad is still intact and that is nice to see. We should see a team ready and raving to go come Friday.
What I didn't like: Palestine seemed to do everything correctly except for pressing the ball in front of their box- this led to the first two goals. At the end of the day, the things that went wrong for this team weren't a result of the plans for this match. Palestine have 20 healthy players eligible to play in Australia. They should have 23. The PFA, in my opinion, could have done more to ensure success.
Fan Atmosphere: Palestine fans should be proud. They created a party-like atmosphere in Newcastle and in a tournament bereft of the vociferous support you might see at other major international finals. Down 1-0 they didn't stop nor at 2-0, 3-0, 4-0. All the way to the final whistle, this may be the start of something truly special.
Man of the Match: Officially, it was Shinji Okazaki. For us, though, it has to be Shinji Kagawa who assisted two goals and consistently gave Palestine's midfield fits. The best player for Palestine? 21 year old Abed Jaber who completely neutralized Keisuke Honda.
What's Next: Palestine face rivals Jordan on Friday, January 16th in Melbourne. Kickoff set for 0700 GMT. Jordan fell to Iraq 1-0 in their opening match.
Pictures to follow in separate post.....