Palestine captain 'fulfils promise' after historic Asian Cup win

The 3-0 victory over Hong Kong was also their first win in the history of the competition

By AFP

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Palestine's Oday Dabbagh (centre) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Hong Kong. — AP
Palestine's Oday Dabbagh (centre) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Hong Kong. — AP

Published: Wed 24 Jan 2024, 5:53 PM

Palestine's captain said his team had fulfilled "a promise to the Palestinian people" after reaching the Asian Cup knockout rounds for the first time on Tuesday.

The 3-0 victory over Hong Kong was also their first win in the history of the competition and enough to squeeze into the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Oday Dabbagh was the hero in Doha with two goals and at the final whistle Palestine's players and staff celebrated on the pitch, hugging and waving flags.

Palestine's victory came against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war in the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Players and staff have lost loved ones in the conflict.

Captain Musab Al-Battat said that his men had made good on "a promise we made to the Palestinian people".

"I would like to thank all those who supported us," he said.

"We managed to put a smile on the faces of those who follow us... inside or outside Palestine."

A pre-match moment's silence was overrun by shouts of "Free Palestine".

No side had played more Asian Cup matches without a win than Hong Kong (12 games) or Palestine (eight), but victory would offer either side a chance of making the last 16.

In the 12th minute Palestine scored when Battat made an overlapping run from right-back and launched a cross into the box which Dabbagh headed into the net.

Heading over to their fans to celebrate, the players raised their hands to make V-signs.

Hong Kong were dealt a blow when centre-back and match-day captain Vas Nunez sustained an arm injury and had to be replaced by Li Ngai-hoi.

But the team ranked 150 in the world started creating chances as the half wore on, Philip Chan and Everton Camargo blazing over.

Throughout the game the 6,568 people inside the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium were almost entirely supporting Palestine, like at most grounds during the team's campaign.

"Thank you to the fans who are coming to support Palestine and the national team of Palestine. Thank you from our heart," captain Al-Battat said.

"We will do our best to put a smile for the people."

But a dense and boisterous bloc of red-clad Hong Kong fans provided an unending beat of encouragement for the minnows from southern China.

Minutes into the second half Palestine doubled their lead, Battat again the provider from the right wing, this time Zeid Qunbar taking him up on a generous invitation to score.

Palestine got a third after the hour, Tamer Seyam's long-range effort hitting the bar and falling to Dabbagh, who tapped in his second of the match.

They were given a scare during the eighth minute of added time when referee Shaun Evans awarded Hong Kong a penalty after a VAR review for a handball by Battat.

But Everton's spot-kick thudded against the bar as Hong Kong headed home, beaten but proud.

Winning coach Makram Daboub said his team "knew this match was decisive... especially concerning the current circumstances that Palestine is going through".

Looking ahead to the next round he said he was realistic about the challenge, but that his team was "very confident in our ability and everything is possible in the second round".

Hong Kong coach Jorn Andersen rued his team's inability to get a goal in the game's opening stages, which might have changed the complexion of the contest.

"That's the difference between us and the better teams before us, because they have the quality to make a goal out of nothing," he said.

"We can try and get better. We need it for the future."


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