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Palestine qualifies for 1st Asian Cup

May 31, 2014 9:31 P.M. (Updated: June 6, 2014 6:20 P.M.)
MALE, Maldives (AFP) -- Palestine's soccer team qualified for their maiden Asian Cup appearance with a 1-0 win over injury-hit Philippines in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives on Friday.

Ashraf Alfawaghra scored the winner with a free kick in the 59th minute to help Palestine, ranked 34th in Asia, enjoy a memorable night at the National stadium in Male.

Palestine, who ended the eight-nation tournament without conceding a goal in five matches, booked a place in the Asian Cup to be held in Australia next January.

They will be placed in group D of the continental showpiece alongside defending champions Japan, Jordan, and Iraq.

The Philippines, ranked 21st in Asia, missed four key players -- goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, full-back Dennis Cagara, center-back Juan Guirado, and striker Ruben Doctora -- in the final due to injuries.

A delighted Palestine coach Jamal Mahmoud said the 2-0 win over fancied Afghanistan in the semi-final on Tuesday had made his side believe they were capable of winning the title.

"That win against the Afghans was very important," he said. "I think we were also the better team in the final. This is a very proud moment for us and our fans back home. We have not let them down.

"We are all very excited about getting a chance to be part of the Asian Cup. We will prepare well for it."

President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday evening telephoned the team to congratulate the players and coaches.

Abbas also praised the Palestinian Football Federation, namely its president Jibril Rajoub, for efforts they have been exerting to improve soccer in Palestine.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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