Mon, 30 Nov, -0001
Male: Coach Jamal Mahmoud insists just reaching the final of the AFC Challenge Cup is not enough after Tuesday’s 2-0 semi-final win over Afghanistan left unbeaten Palestine just one win away from a place at the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015.
Ashraf Al Fawaghra scored either side of half-time at the National Stadium as 2012 semi-finalists Palestine, who won Group A, recorded a third win of the campaign to earn a first appearance in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup.
But with Friday’s final also offering the winners the chance to join defending champions Japan, Jordan and Iraq in Group D at the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015, Mahmoud will demand more from his side who have also yet to concede a goal in four games.
“It was a very hard match because both teams knew that if they lose they would go out of the Challenge Cup. The weather was also hot, but we played well and more importantly we won and now we will prepare for the final,” he said.
“We missed chances in the first half and in the second half, but we got the important goal in the first half. It was important to score first.
“Now we must win. It is not enough just to be in the final, we must win. This is more important.
“Before the tournament we did not have good preparation, but the players are too strong and want to do something for their country. The strongest point of our team is their soul.”
Afghanistan had secured their first semi-final appearance with also an unbeaten record, but the SAFF champions produced a sluggish display just three days after several players and staff were injured in a traffic accident following Saturday’s goalless draw with Laos at the end of the group stage.
But interim Afghanistan coach Erich Rutemoller refused to use Saturday’s incident as an excuse despite captain Haroon Fakhrudin, defender Faisal Sakhizada and striker Belal Arezou all playing against Palestine after suffering injuries in Saturday’s traffic accident.
“It was a semi-final and a competitive game and I think the players felt that today especially in the first half when we had some blackouts and gave chances away, but were lucky they didn’t score. But then the penalty and we are 1-0 down. But at half-time we had a chat and we would not give up. But then what happened should not have happened with the second goal and then you are behind mentally as well,” said Rutemoller.
“But I am proud of the way they tried at least to score in the second half and created chances against a very good defence who have not conceded up to now. We tried and that is OK. I was confident we would score and then you never know, but in the end Palestine won and they deserved to win.
“I was concerned about how the team would react to the things they have suffered. The first day was bad, the second day was better and in last night’s practice the mood in the team and the atmosphere gave me confidence. I was pretty sure they tried to shake off all the things that happened and concentrate. They tried and we don’t have any excuses.”