Palestine target Asian Cup ‘history’ after UAE draw

DOHA – Makram Daboub told his Palestine team to make “history” by reaching the Asian Cup knockout stage for the first time following a 1-1 draw with 10-man United Arab Emirates on Thursday.

A thrilling game in Qatar took place against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war in the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Some of the Palestinian players have lost loved ones or have family trapped in Gaza, and the team have been forced to train and play matches overseas.

A brief moment’s silence was held before kick-off.

Most of the crowd of over 40,000 in Doha roared their support for Palestine, but the UAE opened the scoring midway through the first half through Sultan Adil’s header.

The game completely changed when Palestine were awarded a penalty in the 37th minute and UAE defender Khalifa Al-Hammadi was sent off.

Tamer Seyam saw his spot-kick saved by Khalid Eisa but Palestine deservedly equalised five minutes into the second half when UAE defender Bader Nasser headed into his own goal.

Palestine could not go on to claim their first ever win at the Asian Cup, with Eisa denying them with a series of crucial saves.

But Daboub is confident that they can progress to the last 16 when they play minnows Hong Kong in their final group match on Tuesday.

“The match against Hong Kong will be historic, not only for the players and fans but for all the Palestinian people,” said the coach, whose team began their campaign with a 4-1 loss to Iran.

“Our message is not only a sporting message, it will mean a lot for the people given what is happening there. We hope that we can make history.”

Daboub said his team were unlucky not to win the game after creating a string of second-half chances.

But they came up against an inspired performance by Eisa, whose saves also kept the UAE on course for a place in the last 16.

“The reason why I played well is my calmness, my psychology and my connection with my teammates,” said the goalkeeper.

“We have an amazing atmosphere in the team.”

UAE ‘warriors’

UAE coach Paulo Bento was sent off late in the game after collecting two yellow cards.

His team beat Hong Kong 3-1 in their opening match and play their final group game against Iran.

Palestine made a positive start amid a brief rain shower, but UAE burst their bubble with the opening goal in the 23rd minute.

Ali Saleh swung in a cross from the right and Adil headed it past Palestine goalkeeper Rami Hamada.

The goal seemed to suck the energy out of Palestine but they regrouped and won a penalty after a VAR check.

Hammadi was adjudged to have dragged down Oday Dabbagh in the box, and the replay also brought a red card for the UAE defender.

But Seyam, who scored in Palestine’s opening game against Iran, hit his penalty too close to Eisa.

“Penalties are a matter of luck — the player chooses one side and sometimes the goalkeeper is lucky,” said Daboub.

“Now our fate is in our hands and hopefully the next match will be historic and bring joy to the Palestinian people.”

Palestine drew level when Nasser horribly misjudged a clearance and planted a diving header into his own net.

But UAE held firm despite Palestine’s second-half pressure, and even had chances to snatch a win late on.

“We had some difficulties but I want to say that our players were warriors to the end,” said UAE assistant coach Sergio Costa. – AFP