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Asian Cup 2015: Can plucky Palestine shine and surprise on debut?

Japan, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine. The Knights certainly appear to be the odd ones out in a tough Group D featuring one current and one former Asian Cup champion.

For Palestine, this will be first time they have ever appeared in the tournament since they were officially recognised by FIFA in 1998, and it has often been a difficult road for the Middle Eastern minnows ever since.

Interim coach and former skipper Saeb Jendeya will guide his side through the celebrated competition on a wave of optimism, after Palestine were the last team to qualify by winning the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.

In a surprising move, former boss Jamal Mahmoud stepped down from his post following the Challenge Cup final success against the Philippines, leaving his Knights in uncertain waters.

Their debut in Australia could not get much trickier than facing holders Japan, who recently thrashed them 4-0 in the Asian games, so Jendeya will have to hope they can recover from that disapoinment quickly.

Many of the Knight’s stars are plucked from Palestinian diaspora, including South American born-defensive duo Javier Cohene and Alexis Norambuena, who ply their trade in Serbia and Poland respectively.

In offence, Jendeya will be relying on Imad Khalili and Imad Zatara, who both made their names in Swedish football.

Khalili now represents Chinese side Shanghai, but was top scorer in the Swedish Allsvenskan last season, striking 15 times to put himself on Palestine’s radar, as the Knights scoured the globe for potential.

Fellow wideman, Stockholm-born Zatara, also has an eye for goal, ranking second behind Khalili last campaign after netting nine for club Atvidabergs.

With this potency at their disposal, Palestine may have the potential to shock in a pool they are not expected to progress from.

Skipper Ramzeh Saleh also has an important part to play, as the Egypt-born and based stopper helped the Knights shut out opponents in their Challenge Cup success.

Palestine did not concede a single goal during that campaign and will now be aiming to shut out the attacking prowess of Japan’s superstars, as they take to the Asian Cup stage for their long-awaited big-stage bow.