Syria v Palestine: Stange keeping lofty ambitions in check
Bernd Stange will not write off Syria's chances at the 2019 Asian Cup, but his focus is solely on their opener against Palestine as his side look to build on a strong World Cup qualifying campaign.
Syria fell just short of reaching the finals for the first time at Russia 2018, narrowly losing to Australia in the fourth round of AFC qualification before the Socceroos beat Honduras in a play-off.
Stange, who subsequently took charge of the team, has urged Syria to harness that experience at the Asian Cup, suggesting in the build-up to the tournament that his players could catch the eye in the United Arab Emirates.
And that campaign will begin against rank outsiders Palestine, yet Stange is keen to avoid complacency.
"No one in our team is arrogant to say that we are here to win the tournament," he told reporters on Saturday. "There are many other teams, including sides like Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran and Australia, who have all played in the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
"We have a young group and we want to go as far as we can in this tournament. Our first objective, however, is to take the full points against Palestine.
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) January 5, 2019
"As far as winning the tournament goes, we can safely say that Iraq [2007 winners] have shown us all that such a feat is possible.
"There is a lot of positive pressure on us from the millions of troubled Syrians who want to have something to smile about. We are here to try our best and give them this reason to smile."
Syria have never progressed beyond the first round at the Asian Cup, but Palestine are yet to win a finals match and their head coach Noureddine Ould Ali is under no illusions as to who the favourites are on Sunday.
"We respect Syria and we admit that they have a right to be self-confident as they have achieved some strong results in recent months," he said. "It will be a tightly contested match.
"We are here to play good football and you will see the plan on the pitch."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Syria - Omar Khrbin
Khrbin made hay against the lesser sides in World Cup qualification, hitting 10 goals, and will hope to similarly punish Palestine.
Palestine - Jonathan Zorrilla
One of several Chilean-born players in the Palestine squad, Zorrilla was a regular scorer for his nation in qualifying and then netted a late equaliser against Iran last month.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This will be the first encounter at the Asian Cup between Syria and Palestine.
- Syria are making their sixth appearance at the Asian Cup. They have yet to make it out of the group stages.
- None of Syria's last 13 games at the Asian Cup has ended in a draw (W5 L8).
- This is Palestine’s second appearance at the Asian Cup. In 2015, their only previous participation, they lost all three of their group games, scoring one goal and conceding 11.
- If Palestine lose against Syria, they will join Bangladesh as the only teams to lose their first four games at the Asian Cup.