|Palestine neutralized Japan's attacking threat effectively|
A more apt comparison should have been the 2014 Asian Games Round of 16 match. In Incheon, Palestine were making their debut in the knockout stages of a flagship Asian Competition against the holders and came up woefully short. Japan raced to a 1-0 lead in the first 15 minutes and doubled the lead before the thirty minute mark. In the final 10 minutes Japan added another two goals demonstrating the gulf between the two sides.
This time after a nervy start Palestine went toe-to-toe with Japan- and could have stolen a valuable point five minutes from time.
That is not to say that the team did not ride its luck in the opening stages of the game. The defence was discombobulated during the first ten minutes and were lucky to see Shion Inoue crashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar.
Palestine eventually did concede when a confluence of mistakes led to Ko Itakura scoring the lone goal of the game. Mohammed El-Kayed lost track of the player after a quick one-two. When the Japanese fullback cut inside and picked up the return pass he was met by Michel Termanini who dove in and missed, leaving acres of space open at the top of the box. A well placed, but tame shot rolled into the back of the net past an unsuspecting Naim Abu Aker.
The goal pressed Palestine into action and by the end of the first half they had begun to show signs of life. Oday Dabagh forced a turnover and raced down the wing with his cut back pass nearly finding the onrushing Mohammed El-Kayed.
That passage of play imbibed Palestine with confidence in the second half. Palestine were able to press high up the pitch with good effect- and when Japan managed to find a way past the first wave, Mohammed Rashid- arguably the man of the match for Palestine- was there to clean things up. Even the center backs, Termanini and Abdel Salam, who were unconvincing in the first half looked like pillars of stability at the back.
The game plan almost came together perfectly five minutes from time. Substitute Mahmoud Yousef's lung busting run of the right flank resulted with him in the box with only the goalkeeper to beat. The attempt- low and to the near post- was a tougher finish than it looked creeped wide.
What I liked: Great second half display- looked like a team that belonged and did not fear the Japanese.
What I didn't like: Shihab Qinbar nearly got himself sent off with an unnecessary challenge on the goalkeeper while he was already on a yellow card. That lack of discipline needs to be stamped out.
Man of the Match: Mohammed Rashid brought a good mix of composure, intelligence, and his physical presence to the match. The captain of St. Francis University just completed his senior year and his footballing future is up in the air but he looks ready to make the jump.
What's Next: Palestine faces Korea DPR on Saturday, January 13th at 8 AM GMT. The Koreans beat Thailand 1-0 in the other game in Group B.