Hussam Abu Saleh (L) could be Palestine's key player
It is, without a doubt, the biggest game game in Palestine's footballing history and will only be eclipsed should Palestine win and make the final next week. Al-Fursan are two wins away from a place at Australia 2015 alongside the hosts, holders Japan, and Korea Republic. Before dreaming of kangaroos and koalas the Palestinians must find a way past DPR Korea- the current Challenge Cup holders. The Chollima were also World Cup Finals participants in 2010- making this Palestine's first game against a finalist since their 2-0 loss to Iran in the 2007 WAFF Championships.
Al-Fursan will most likely not outlast the Chollima in a marathon 120-minute match. Playing out a 0-0 stalemate as they did last week against Turkmenistan will most definitely play into the hands of the North Koreans whose fitness levels are amongst the best in Asia. That said, Palestine do have an extra day's rest and are more battle-hardened than the Koreans who have been coasting since their 3rd minute goal against Tajikistan in their second game. Palestine on the other hand were not sure of qualification until Houssam Wadi's 59th minute opener against the Maldives. In sports, sometimes the team that has had the easy route can get caught up in a complacent attitude. We shall see if that is the case with DPR Korea tomorrow.
DPR Korea's Approach
As mentioned in an earlier post the Koreans will most likely line up in a 3-3-2-2. More often than not that leaves the Koreans defending with six players and attacking with four. The wingbacks, unlike in a traditional 3-5-2, do not bomb forward and are instead instructed to focus on covering the space behind them. That said, the Koreans saw so much of the ball in the Group Stage that the wingbacks did push forward. When DPR Korea do not have the ball they will often drop eight men into their own half and press for the ball.
DPR Korea Expected Starting XI
What Palestine can Exploit:
It's a very simple equation for Jamal Mahmoud's men- avoid defensive lapses and avoid turning the ball over in critical areas. The North Koreans may be the tournament's top scorers but they have been aided by some truly atrocious defending. In the first game, Mahmoud elected to allow Nepal to come forward and the strategy worked because of Nepal's inability to create chances by passing the ball on the ground. I do not think that we will see a repeat of those passive tactics- Mahmoud will have seen how DPR Korea managed to frustrate Brazil (then a counterattacking side under Dunga) for sixty minutes at the World Cup.
Defensively, Murad Ismail will need to neutralize Pak Nam-Chol like he did Ruslan Mizangov. Shutting down Pak and Ri in the midfield limits the service to the most advanced players on the pitch and turns DPR Korea into an extremely one-dimensional side.
On the other hand, Palestine will not likely find a lot of space in the middle of the pitch but should have free reign on the wings. Hussam Abu Saleh could have a field day if Jamal Mahmoud allows him to bomb forward. At the World Cup, DPR Korea had a hard time dealing with attacking fullbacks- Maicon scored the opening goal for Brazil while Portugal's left back Fabio Coentrão spent most his time operating in the final third.