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Palestine bows out of Asian Cup after third defeat

January 20, 2015

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — There were no wins, and just one goal, yet the Palestinians bowed out of their first Asian Cup on Tuesday to rousing applause and cheers.

More than 10,000 fans applauded Palestine off the field after it lost 2-0 to Iraq. Fans in Australia responded positively to the Palestinians, whose mere appearance was remarkable. The team paid the fans back with appreciated effort.

As expected, the Palestinians finished on the bottom of Group D without a point, but improved in each of their three performances, of which the best was their last.

A talented Iraq team was made to work very hard to break down a stubborn red-shirted backline, with substitute goalkeeper Tawfiq Abuhammad especially impressive, saving a second-half penalty from Younis Mahmoud, the Iraq captain who headed his team into the lead soon after halftime.

The Palestinians qualified for the Asian Cup by winning the 2014 Challenge Cup, a now-defunct competition for Asia’s emerging teams. For a squad that drew 17 of the 23 players from the West Bank Premier League, and had difficulties gathering a full-strength team for training camps and friendlies due to travel restrictions and visa issues, the jump in quality was too high.

“On the road to this tournament, we were familiar with playing against teams of 150-plus in the FIFA ranking,” coach Ahmad Al Hassan said. “Now we are playing with teams ranked 50 to 60. That gap in the performance of our opponent played an important factor.”

Just getting to Australia was important for Palestine, for now, to inspire its football community at home. For the 2019 Asian Cup, there will be no Challenge Cup route; the team will have to qualify.

Defender Abdallah Jaber believed it was possible. Most of the players were young, he said, adding, “They still have a future.”

Al Hassan hopes they spread back home the lessons they learned.

The coach said: “This is the beginning and not the end.”

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