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Tue 28 June 2022

Palestine blanks Azkals, re-enter AFC Asian Cup

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Palestine, a war-torn country geographically split in two by Israel, has booked its third straight AFC Asian Cup final by blanking the Philippines, 4-0, in the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers Tuesday afternoon in Ulaanbaatar.

The Fedayeens (“Freedom Fighters”) capitalized on aggressive attacks from their final third, exploiting the Azkals’ inability to push forward, scoring three goals of quick attacks and one from a corner kick.

The scoring parade begun at the 31st minute, as Egyptian Premier League standout Saleh Chihadeh scored on a header off a cross from the right wing by Musab Battat for his second international goal.

Veteran Tamer Seyam scored his 12th international goal eleven minutes later, bouncing a header from point blank range off a left cross from midfielder Mahmoud Abu Warda.

The Azkals had two shots on goal in the first half but were averted by Palestinian goalkeeper Rami Hamada.

At the 40th minute, Hamada barely saved a header from substitute forward Patrick Reichelt off a corner kick.

Hamada likewise blocked a power strike from Bundesliga star Gerrit Holtmann at injury time.

Palestine continued on its relentless attack in the second half as Mohammed Yameen goaled on a header off a right corner kick at the 55th minute. Yameen’s shot was initially caught by Neil Etheridge but the Azkals goalkeeper stepped behind the goal line.

It was central midfielder Abu Warda’s turn to score at 72nd minute, striking net off an assist from Samer Jondi.

This was the most goals conceded by Etheridge since 2015, when he conceded five goals against Uzbekistan  during the second round of the 2018 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

Palestine capped off their campaign as the best team of the Third Round so far, scoring ten goals and conceding none.

The Azkals, with a one win, one draw, and one loss card, are virtually eliminated from the Asian Cup barring a miracle of Biblical proportions.

To survive, groupmate Mongolia must not lose to Yemen by three goals; Kuwait and Indonesia must lose their final games in Group A; and Turkmenistan and Malaysia must likewise lose in Group E.

Kuwait will meet Jordan and Turkmenistan will battle Bahrain later while AFF neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia are favored to win against already-ran Nepal and Bangladesh, respectively.

Apart from Palestine, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Bahrain, Krygyzstan, and Tajikistan have entered the Asian Cup final due to superior standing.

Hong Kong returns to the Asian Cup for the first time since 1968 with wins over Afghanistan and Cambodia while Tajikistan, the team eliminated by the Azkals in 2018, made their debut with wins over Myanmar and Singapore.

The Azkals, then led by Phil Younghusband and Stephan Schrock, debuted in the Asian Cup final in 2019 but lost to South Korea, China, and Kyrgyzstan in the group stage. Schrock was the lone goal scorer for the national squad in the game against Kyrgyzstan.

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