Challenge winners Palestine qualify for Asian Cup

MALDIVES - Palestine will make their Asian Cup debut in January after qualifying for the continent's top international tournament by beating the Philippines 1-0 in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives on Friday.

Ashraf Al Fawaghra scored the winner from a free kick in the 59th minute to ensure Palestine took the 16th and final spot in the January 9-31 tournament in Australia. The Palestinians will face defending champions Japan, 2007 Asian Cup winners Iraq and their Jordanian neighbours in the opening round in Group D.

"We had many players who could not come with us this time due to problems, but we hope they can come with us to Australia," Palestine coach Jamal Mahmoud told "We need to make more training camps and more tough friendly matches before the Asian Cup."

Palestine will be the last winners of the AFC Challenge Cup as the biennial competition for developing football nations is being scrapped.

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Aaj Kal