Palestine’s path to the 2023 Asian Cup

This week saw the end of Palestine’s World Cup qualifying campaign. The writing had been on the wall for some time. When 2019 ended, Palestine had a very narrow path to the third round. They needed to win all their games and then hope for Uzbekistan to slip up by losing their final game to Saudi Arabia in addition to dropping points against one of Singapore or Yemen. 

That path narrowed significantly when Palestine shifted their calendar to accommodate Saudi Arabia and suffered a disastrous 5-0 loss. That loss provided a much needed and oft delayed impetus to make a coaching change

Palestine are once again in the ascendancy having stabilized their set up with a 4-0 win over Singapore and a 3-0 win over Yemen in their first games under Makram Dabboub. 

Palestine has not yet qualified for China 2023

Having clinched third place in the group there was a lot of misinformation flying around. Finishing third does not, in fact, give Palestine passage to the 2023 Asian Cup in China. 

What Palestine did avoid was the indignity of having to play in a playoff just to participate in Asian Cup qualifying. 

Under the joint qualifying system launched during the 2018/19 cycle. The 12 teams that progress to Round 3 of World Cup qualifying qualify directly to the 2023 Asian Cup and will not enter teams in the qualifying tournament. 

The Coronavirus Pandemic has forced the AFC to rejig the format in relation to the bottom 12 teams of Round 2 of World Cup qualification. Now, only four teams will participate in the playoffs- Indonesia, Guam, Chinese Taipei, and Cambodia. Presumably, the change was made due to the difficulties of travel in Asia in the midst of the pandemic. 

The start of Asian Cup qualifying proper has also been pushed back. Originally  rescheduled for a November start, the tournament will not get under way until February 2022. 

Additionally, the date for the draw will not be made until later this year. Next week, FIFA will draw the qualifying groups for Round 3 but will await the outcome of the playoff round before drawing the groups for teams in the Asian Cup qualifying tournament.

Who will Palestine Play in Asian Cup Qualifying?

Palestine will not know their opponents until the draw is conducted in October or November of this year. There is the small matter of identifying the final two participants in the field of 24 teams. Indonesia or Cambodia will be drawn against one of Chinese Taipei or Guam.

As things stand, Palestine will be in Pot 1 of the Asian Cup qualifying draw by virtue of their current ranking (102nd, 18th in Asia). Things are unlikely to change between now and the time of the draw as friendly encounters can only shift the needle by a couple of points (for example Palestine only gained 17.5 points in their last two WCQ wins) and the gaps between Palestine and the teams just below them is too wide. There could be some movement further down as the gaps between Pot 2, 3, & 4 are considerably narrower. (Special thanks to the excellent work done by FootyRankings that helped in putting this forecast together)

As things stand here are the Pots for the Asian Cup Draw:

  • Pot 1: Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Palestine, India
  • Pot 2: Tajikistan, Thailand, Philippines, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Myanmar
  • Pot 3: Hong Kong, Yemen, Chinese Taipei*, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Maldives
  • Pot 4: Singapore, Nepal, Indonesia*, Cambodia*, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Guam*

Palestine will start qualifying at home on February 1st, 2022 against the team from Pot 4. In March they will travel to play the team from Pot 2 on the 24th before returning home to host the Pot 3 team on March 29th. A single match awaits on June 14th when the side travels to the Pot 3 team and qualifying will be wrapped up in September with an away game on the 22nd to the 4th seed and a home game against the Pot 2 team on the 27th.

Due to Qatar booking their place at the Asia Cup by topping Group E in Round 2 there will only be 11 places available at China 2023. As such, an unlucky runner-up with the worst points total will be eliminated.

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