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Ould Ali’s Palestine building towards Asian Qualifiers

Karbala: Their bid for a first WAFF Championship title is far from over, but Palestine head coach Noureddine Ould Ali has one eye on his side’s Asian Qualifiers campaign for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, which begins in September.

A 1-0 opening match win against Yemen in Group A was followed up by a late 2-1 defeat to hosts Iraq on Friday in a mixed start to the regional championship, giving the Palestinians little room for error if they are to advance to the final on August 14.

But even if Palestine’s WAFF Championship tilt ends at the group stage, Ould Ali sees the competition as important preparation for the crucial Asian Qualifiers to come.

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“When we participate in WAFF Championship, we have two goals,” said the Algerian. “The first is to compete in this tournament, and the second is to work on preparing the team for the Asian Qualifiers for the World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023.

"The work we did in the first two matches gives us positive indications before playing the first match of the Asian Qualifiers one month from now."

That match, against Uzbekistan on September 5, is the start of an eight-game campaign which will also pit them against Singapore and Saudi Arabia, as well as Yemen, who they defeated last Tuesday.

Palestine appeared on track for another win, this time against the hosts, when an Islam Batran penalty put them 1-0 up inside three minutes on Friday, but goals from Mohanad Abdulraheem and Hussein Ali sealed an impressive Iraqi recovery.

Despite the defeat, which significantly dents their chances of reaching the final as group winners, Ould Ali is buoyed by the experience thus far in Karbala.

"Although we lost, we will continue to work strongly in the coming matches as we still want to compete and also want to continue developing our performance,” he said.

"The positive thing in this match was we scored early, as we usually don't score in the first minutes. On the other side, we still have some work to do in the offensive and defensive sides and also the players reaction after we conceded was not as we hoped.

"Playing in such weather in front of such a big crowd was good for us, because we will face Asian teams in different conditions."

With many of the players who represented Palestine at the AFC Asian Cup based at overseas clubs, and unavailable for the current competition in Iraq, Ould Ali is hopeful he will be able to choose from a full complement of players come September 5.

"We are still at the start of our work,” he explained.

“This is the second match for the team, we started training last month. Also, we are using local league players, but in the next stage we hope we get all the overseas players to compete in the Asian Qualifiers."

Palestine play Lebanon in their third Group A match later on Monday.

Photos: West Asian Football Federation, AFC

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