Teams that debut at major tournaments, namely the UEFA Champions League and the World Cup, tend to experience a steep learning curve. Even ones that are highly touted tend to be awed by the spectacle of it all. By that logic, many have thought that Palestine will struggle to get anything out of their Group D opponents.
Now that may end up being the case or it may not. The fact of the matter is that the Asian Cup is unique in 60 years the competition has metastasized from a four team round robin to a (soon-to-be) 24-team tournament. Along the way there were a whole hosts of debutants, most of whom could only qualify after the federations joined the AFC or after their nation became independent. Here’s a look at how each debutant fared.
Debutant: Republic of China (Chinese Taipei)
First Game: Win (2-0 vs. South Vietnam)
Finished: 3rd (1-0-2)
First Game: Win (2-0 vs. South Korea)
Finished: 2nd (2-0-1)
Debutants: Iran & Burma (Myanmar)
- Iran 2:0 Hong Kong
- Burma 1:1 Republic of China
Finished: Champions & Runner-up (5-team Group)
Debutants: Thailand, Iraq, Kuwait, Khmer Republic (Cambodia)
- Thailand 1:1 Iraq
- Kuwait 2:1 South Korea
- South Korea 4:1 Khmer Republic
Finished: Iraq finished bottom of its group with one point from two games. Kuwait lost a tie breaker after all three teams in the group finished with a win and a loss a piece. Thailand and Khmer Republic were losing semifinalists.
Debutants: China PR, Malaysia, South Yemen
- Kuwait 2:0 Malaysia
- China 1:1 Malaysia
- South Yemen 0:1 Iraq
Finished: The heirachy of Asian Football started to develop with this tournament and it would be the last six-team tourney. China lost 2-0 to eventual champions in Iran in the semifinal but saved some face with a 1-0 victory over Iraq in the third place match. Malaysia missed out courtesy of inferior goal difference. South Yemen, who hadn’t played any qualifying matches after a whole host of withdrawals, were romped 8-0 by Iran in their final game.
Debutants: Bangladesh, Korea DPR, Qatar, Syria UAE
- North Korea 3:2 Bangladesh
- Syria 0:0 Iran
- UAE 1:1 Kuwait
- Qatar 2:1 UAE
Finished: Bangladesh was blown out 6-0 and 7-0 by Iran and China after keeping it close against other debutants in their first two games. The final game in Group A was a showdown between Syria and North Korea for a semifinal spot, the Koreans, needing a win got the result. Qatar and the UAE finished bottom of their groups but kept things respectable until the fourth round with their exits more or less sealed.
Debutants: Singapore, Saudi Arabia
- Saudi Arabia 1:1 South Korea
- Singapore 2:0 India
Finished: Saudi Arabia finished top of its group with two wins and two draws and went on to lift the trophy. Singapore didn’t advance but they did nick a point off Iran to finish with a 1-1-2 record.
Debutants: Bahrain, Japan
- Japan 0:0 Iran
- Bahrain 0:0 Kuwait
Finished: Bottom of their respective groups. Japan failed to score a goal and their opening game was the only one that didn’t end in defeat. Bahrain managed two points with their losses coming as a result of a binary scoreline.
1992 (No Debutants)
Debutants: Uzbekistan, Indonesia
- Indonesia 2:2 Kuwait
- Uzbekistan 2:0 China
Finished: Uzbekistan cruelly missed out on the quarterfinals due to inferior goal difference. Indonesia played some entertaining football but exited the tournament after losing 4-2 and 2-0 to South Korea and UAE, respectively.
Finished: The hosts of the tournament managed draws against Iraq and Thailand but were never in a position to recover after the scoreline quadrupled in the final 15 minutes of the opening game.
Debutants: Jordan, Oman, Turkmenistan
- Jordan 0:0 South Korea
- Oman 0:1 Japan
- Turkmenistan 1:1 Saudia Arabia
Finished: Jordan advanced the quarterfinals. Oman collected four points off of Iran and Thailand but went home early. Turkmenistan played Uzbekistan and Iraq to one-goal losses en route to an early exit.
Overall, debutants haven’t done all that bad in their first games at the Asian Cup. That said, debutants tend to come in groups- Australia excepted- there hasn’t been a new team at the Asian Cup in over a decade. Palestine could very well get blown out in all three games down under but there is more evidence to suggest that that won’t be the case. Yes, we could take the example of India (lost 4-0, 5-2, 4-1 to Australia, Bahrain and, South Korea, respectively) at the last Asian Cup as they qualified vis-a-vis the same path but we would also have to account for Korea DPR’s competent display (scores of 0-0, 0-1, 0-1 against UAE, Iraq, and Iran) at the same tournament.
Debutant teams have a 8-12-6 record in their first games at the tournament. In other words, the stark outsiders were able to collect at least one point from their opening match nearly 80% of the time.
If Palestine are looking for inspiration they need to look no further than across the river. In 2004, a young Jordanian squad with no foreign legionaries held a World Cup semifinalist to a 0-0 draw. They used the same tactic to stifle and grind out points against the two other West Asian sides in the group en route to a quarterfinal finish.
Jordan repeated the feat in 2011 when they played Japan in their first game (grinding out a 1-1 draw) before knocking off overrated Saudi Arabia in the second game 1-0. The deciding game against Syria went Jordan’s way (2-1) with the Nashama capitalizing on a series of Syrian errors.
So are Palestine stark outsiders? Probably not. Will they get a point off Japan in the first game? Unlikely- unless everything goes to plan. That said there is enough data and historical anecdote to suggest that Palestine could take advantage of two out of form teams and sneak into the quarterfinal.