Palestinian soccer team set for its first test at Asian Cup against three-time champion Iran

FILE - Palestine's Musab Battat, right, and Ismail Alamour compete for the ball with Japan's Yuto Nagatomo, center, during the AFC Asia Cup soccer match between Japan and Palestine in Newcastle, Australia, Monday, January 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, File)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Palestinian soccer team gets its first test at the Asian Cup on Sunday, with its preparations having been made harder by no domestic soccer and limited opportunities to play competitive matches.

It faces three-time champion Iran in its opening game of the tournament, on the same day as the Israel-Hamas war reaches the 100-day mark.

“There has been very little football activity in Palestine for three months since the start of the war and this impacted us negatively, but we played friendlies abroad and qualifiers,” team captain Musab Battat said Saturday. “We want to put in good performances and get good results for our fans.”

Qatar captain Hassan Al Haydos handed the honor of taking the pre-tournament oath to Battat at Friday’s opening ceremony in Lusail.

“As a captain, saying the pledge was a proud moment for me as a captain of Palestine,” Battat said.

His team lost 1-0 against Uzbekistan and drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia in warmup games this month. In November it lost 1-0 against Australia and drew 0-0 with Lebanon.

Despite that winless run, Battat spoke with confidence ahead of facing Iran.

“Our preparations went well, we are ready and fully aware of the size of the task at hand in this tournament. We are in good form at the moment and raring to go,” he said.

The Palestinian team's coach Makram Daboub spoke of his desire to bring “joy for our people.”

“Iran are one of the best teams in the continent. They have a lot of top players and are a talented group,” he said. “It’s between them, (South) Korea and Japan for the title in my opinion.

“Recently we played very well against Australia, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia, so in one match we fancy our chances, and we can dream of going through to the next round.”

The United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong are also in Group C.


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