Palestinians qualifies for Asia Cup
Victory in game against the Philippines secures national team's place in next year's competition in Australia.
Palestine's soccer team won the Asia Challenge Cup on Friday in a match against the Philippines, securing its place in the AFC Asia Cup that will be held next year in Australia.
The match, held in the Maldives, ended 1-0. The Palestinian team had never before won a final in an internationally-sanctioned soccer tournament since FIFA admitted the Palestinian Football Association in 1998.
"Congratulations to our people, Palestine today is proud of such an historical achievement," said Jibril Al-Rajoub, chairman of the Palestine Football Association, who watched the match among hundreds of fans in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
In Gaza City, thousands watched the match on large screens on the sandy beach, beating drums. Fireworks lit up the sky as player Ashraf Al Fawaghra scored the winning goal for Palestine with a free kick in the second half.
"It is not the World Cup, but our happiness feels like we won the World Cup," said Adel Waleed, a 45-year-old teacher who watched the game with his four children.
The Palestinians say that Israel has been restricting the movement of Palestinian athletes and have urged FIFA sanction the Jewish state unless it loosened the restrictions.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week, said he did not see a reason for sanctioning Israel. Blatter said he would find a solution to Palestinian demands, without elaborating.
The FIFA Congress will convene in Sao Paolo in Brazil next month.
Some said the victory inspired a feeling of unity among Palestinians, divided by a deep political rift between Hamas and the West Bank-based Fatah of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"This is the first-ever championship win in Palestinian history and I hope it boosts unity and reconciliation efforts," said Abdel-Salam Haniyeh, a member of the Palestinian Higher Council for Youth and Sport.
Both President Mahmoud Abbas and the rival Hamas group issued statements praising the victory in the Madlives.
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