Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Newcastle: When Palestine march onto the field, with their eyes trained on their flag and their anthem echoing around Newcastle Stadium on Monday, Ashraf Nu’man and his team mates will not only swell with pride, they will know they have fulfilled their latest role as ambassadors of their country.
Palestine’s qualification for the AFC Asian Cup 2015 is one of triumph over adversity for a team that not only won the AFC Challenge Cup, but has also overcome significant difficulties at home to make it to Australia for their debut appearance at the finals with defending champions Japan their Group D opponents on Monday.
Despite the problems and their status as rank outsiders, Nu’man and his colleagues are adamant that merely qualifying for the tournament is not enough: they have set their sights on reaching the quarter-finals.
“We’re very happy to be here and very proud to be one of the best teams in Asia,” says Palestine’s joint leading goalscorer.
“We have been surprised by the welcome we have had from the Australian fans, the Arab fans and all of the others, and that makes us very proud. We will try to play well and our ambition is to reach the second round.
“We know this competition is a high level, better than we faced at the AFC Challenge Cup. Japan are the champions of Asia, Iraq were the champions at the tournament before that and Jordan almost qualified for the World Cup.
“But we’re not here just to participate. We will try to do well. It’s a tough game against Japan, of course, but we also have good players and it is 11 players against 11 players on the field.”
Palestine’s preparations for the AFC Asian Cup have been hampered by travel restrictions imposed on players and the federation by Israel, who control access into and out of both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Nu’man believes Australia 2015 is the perfect opportunity to show the ability of the Palestinians to overcome adversity.
“We had many problems and there are many players who can’t leave Palestine, and also there are many players outside Palestine who can’t join the rest of the team for training camps,” he says.
“We are here to prove to the whole world that we can fight with the ball. We are ambassadors for the people and we will try to make them very proud of us.
“It’s very important for us to be here and for the whole world to hear our national anthem and to see our flag. We’re here to prove to the world we are human beings and that we have the right to play football.”