|Fadi Zidan with Palestine’s best chance of the game.|
Palestine’s qualifying hopes were dealt a killer blow with a 3-0 reverse at the hands of Group C hosts Iran on Friday. The day started off well enough for Palestine with Afghanistan scoring a shock 0-0 draw of Saudi Arabia. That result meant Palestine could conceivably hope for second place in the group with a draw against Team Melli provided the Iranians registered victories against the rest of the field.
Palestine entered the game with three changes to their starting eleven against Saudi Arabia Mohammed Yamin replaced Hani Naboulse while Yousef Al-Ashhab was tasked with providing extra cover in midfield in place of Mahmoud Abuwarda. The other change saw Oday Kharoub make way for the speedier Mohammed Abu Asfour.
Full Highlights and more after the jump…
Palestine’s approach allowed them to keep Iran honest but their midfield wasn’t strong enough to shield their defense from being exploited by key passes courtesy of (the younger, unrelated) Ali Karimi. In response, Barakat made sure his team sat deeper and the complexion of the match became more predictable, with Palestine happy to cede possession in midfield and breaking with vigor through the likes of Abu Asfour and Zidan.
Iran did find a way past Palestine’s backline multiple times thanks to the speed of Serdar Azmoun. When he wasn’t creating chances himself- he was teeing up teammates. Milad Kamadani probably should have put the hosts ahead fifteen minutes in but all other attacks were thwarted brilliantly by Rami Hamada.
At the break all was going to plan for Palestine with the scores level at 0-0.
The second half could not have gotten off to a worse start with Palestine conceding just three minutes in. A free kick resembling a mini-corner was played in and confusion between Rami Hamada and his defenders allowed Serdar Azmoun to ghost in for an easy finish.
For all their efforts, Palestine could not find a way to equalize- Fadi Zidan’s effort was brilliantly saved by Mohammedreza Akhbari. Abu Asfour amazing bicycle kick almost tied things up with a quarter of an hour left, but the rasping shot just whizzed over the crossbar.
On 80 minutes, Rami Hamada’s allowed a weak cross to slip just below under his body, Arsalan Motahhari capitalized and made in 2-0 with a simple tap in.
Palestine’s bizzare run of penalties being awarded against them by Arab referees was stretched to four consecutive games in injury time. Jordanian referee Mohammed Abu Luom awarded Iran a penalty after Rami Hamada caught Motahari with an errant punch in the area.
Motahari stepped up to make it 3-0 but was forced to take the penalty again after encroachment was called. Hamada nearly saved the second effort but in the end Palestine were left to deal with a rather harsh scoreline given how expertly they dispatched Abdel Nasser Barakat’s strategy.
Palestine wrap up their qualifying campaign on Tuesday against Nepal but can finish no higher than third place after Saudi Arabia’s 6-0 win over the same opponent.