Palestine expect 'celebration' in debut of Asian Cup last 16

AFP , Sunday 28 Jan 2024

Palestine striker Tamer Seyam said Monday's historic Asian Cup last-16 match against hosts Qatar will be a "celebration" for fans who find themselves in the unusual position of rooting for both teams.

Palestine will play Qatar in the Asian Cup last 16 on Monday. AFP

Palestine have reached the knockout rounds for the first time despite a deeply troubled build-up overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war in the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Some of the players have lost loved ones and have family trapped in Gaza. The team trained and played matches abroad in the lead-up to their third Asian Cup.

Fans of other sides in Qatar have been vocal in their support of the Palestine team, who qualified with a 3-0 win over Hong Kong in their final group match.

Palestine play the hosts and holders at the 68,000-capacity Al-Bayt Stadium and Seyam said on the eve of the game that it was "an honour" to have supporters of other teams cheering for them.

"For the first time in Asia there will be fans supporting two teams," said the 31-year-old, who scored Palestine's first goal of the tournament against Iran in a 4-1 defeat.

"It will be a football celebration, but on the pitch it is a competition."

Palestine began their campaign with the Iran defeat but drew 0-0 with the United Arab Emirates before beating Hong Kong.

They face a tough test against Qatar, who have won all three of their matches without conceding a goal and will be expected to win.

But Palestine's coach Makram Daboub said "the pressure will be more on the Qatar team".

"We achieved our main goal and we have no pressure," he said.

"We will try to deliver, and anything is possible over the 90 minutes."

Qatar have won an astonishing 10 straight games at the Asian Cup, including all seven matches when they lifted the trophy for the first time in 2019.

Forward Akram Afif was one of the stars of the tournament five years ago and has again been in impressive form, scoring three goals so far.

Striker Almoez Ali said Qatar were "lucky to have Akram".

"We have played together for 10 years and we understand each other very well," said Ali, who finished as top scorer at the 2019 Asian Cup with nine goals and has scored one so far at this year's tournament.

"He is the one that makes the chances for me to score.

"He has a great relationship with everyone in the team. He is like a player and a coach."

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