After much silence we now know what Palestine’s path to the 2023 Asian Cup Finals will look like.
The qualification tournament was delayed several times as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally meant to take place over six match days between March and November 2021, it was delayed by a year. At the last moment, the AFC took the decision to centralize the location of the tournament and to cut the number of matches from six to three to be held on June 8th, 11th, and 14th.
The draw for the tournament will be conducted on February 24th at 9 AM (Jerusalem Time).
How the Tournament Works
Palestine and 24 other Asian teams are currently competing to see which eleven teams will join the 12 teams who have booked their spot at China 2023 by virtue of advancing to Round Three of World Cup qualification.
The teams that have advanced to the Asian Cup Finals are: China (hosts), Qatar, Iran, Japan, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Oman, Vietnam, UAE, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Who could Palestine potentially play
By virtue of their FIFA ranking, Palestine is in Pot 1 for the draw meaning they will avoid some of Asia’s more established sides.
They cannot be drawn alongside Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Jordan, or Bahrain.
For purposes of the draw all six hosts (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Kuwait, Malaysia, and Mongolia) will be placed in the same pot- but groups will still need to be composed by one team from Pot 1, 2, 3, & 4.
By virtue of their placement of Pot 1 Palestine will play their qualifying matches in either Kuwait, Malaysia, or Mongolia.
Palestine’s Path to China
Al-Fida’i have posted a good record in Asian Cup qualifiers over the last ten years registering 15 wins, 4 draws, and 3 losses en route to qualifying for the 2015 and 2019 Asian Cup finals.
In looking over the possible permutations, Palestine will have a far easier task in qualifying for their third successive finals if they avoid Kuwait. Al-Azraq might have fallen on hard times but they still are of a better pedigree than the other teams in Pot 2- and until last year, Palestine had never beaten them.
Other factors such as the punishing heat and the fact that the worst second place team faces elimination makes Kuwait the team to avoid:
Below is Palestine’s record in official matches against all possible opponents:
(H) Kuwait (1W 1D 7L)
Thailand (0W 1D 1L)
Tajikistan (0W 2D 0L)
Philippines (1W 1D 1L)
Turkmenistan (0W 1D 0L)
Hong Kong (1W 1D 0L)
TOTAL: (3W 6D 10L)
(H) Malaysia (3W 0D 1L)
Afghanistan (2W 1D 0L)
Yemen (4W 0D 2L)
Myanmar (2W 0D 1L)
Maldives (3W 1D 0L)
Indonesia (0W 1D 1L)
TOTAL: (14W 3D 5L)
(H) Mongolia (0W 0D 0L)
Singapore (2W 1D 3L)
Nepal (2W 2D 0L)
Cambodia (1W 0D 0L)
Bangladesh (5W 1D 0L)
Sri Lanka (1W 0D 0L)
TOTAL: (11W 4D 3L)