Kuwait City: A mix of optimism and pessimism prevailed among Noureddine Ould Ali’s men when Palestine were drawn against Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Singapore and Yemen in Group D of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
The Palestinian team got off to an impressive start, winning 2-0 against Uzbekistan, a country that was 18 spots above them on the FIFA World Ranking.
“That was a very important victory, especially as it came at the beginning of our qualification campaign,” Oday Dabbagh, the player who scored the first goal for Palestine in the Qualifiers, told FIFA.com. “It was our first victory ever against Uzbekistan, and thus a major motivation for us to perform well in these games.”
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Asked what that goal meant to him, especially since it came only two months after his first professional football experience that saw him move from Palestine to Kuwait’s Al-Salmiya Club, the 21-year old said:
“It was great to score the national team’s first goal in the Qualifiers. It was a major boost for me as I had just started my professional football outside Palestine.”
But the hopes of Dabbagh and his teammates were soon dashed as this win remained the only victory for Palestine in the Qualifiers. The Knights lost 2-0 to Singapore and drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia before suffering two successive losses to Yemen and Uzbekistan.
After the lost game against Singapore, Dabbagh missed the following three games for Palestine due to a collarbone injury that he had again in March after moving to Qadsiya SC.
The player discussed the bitterness of being absent from the important games that Palestine played, revealing that he is today fully ready to return to the remaining qualification games.
“It was hard for me to be absent and to watch the games from afar,” he said. “I wanted very much to participate, particularly in the game against Saudi Arabia, which was clearly affected by my absence.
“My path to recovery was tough, especially at the beginning, as the injury was bad. But I managed, and now I’m in an excellent condition. I’m fully ready to rejoin the national team.”
Dabbagh’s return will improve the chances of Palestine, who failed to score any goals in their last three qualifiers. Now bottom of Group D with four points, there is hope that the player, who plays in more than one position, will lead them to victories in the remaining games.
In the first game, Palestine will host Singapore. After that, they will play an away game against Saudi Arabia and a home game against Yemen. With two of these three matches taking place on home soil, Palestine have a chance to qualify for the next round, Dabbagh believes.
“Many factors negatively affected our team in the previous games, notably the injuries suffered by a number of players," he said. "But with these players returning now, we have very good chances. Moreover, two of the games will be played on home soil, and this will tip the balance in our favour.
“We still have three important games. I hope we’ll achieve positive results to realise our dream and qualify for the next round.”
Sources: FIFA.com, AFP, AFC
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