Thursday 16 November 2017, 08:52

Palestine boosted by Asian qualifying success

  • Palestine ranked 84th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, 11th in AFC Zone

  • Abdel Nasser Barakat has achieved impressive results since taking over as coach in April 2015

  • Palestine have qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for only the second time in their history 

Palestinian football has enjoyed plenty of success in recent years, following the country’s historic AFC Asian Cup debut in Australia in 2015. Though they exited the competition in the first round, the Palestinians have continued to make significant progress since then.

When Abdel Nasser Barakat was appointed national team coach in April 2015, few would have believed that Palestine would kick on to achieve their highest ever position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking just two and a half years later.

The 41-year-old coach has overseen some remarkable results in Group D of the third round of the qualifying competition for the 2019 Asian Cup, steering his side to the continental finals in the process. That success has also brought with it a climb up the FIFA Ranking, to 84th place last month.

Barakat’s side picked up 318 points and rose seven places after thrashing Bhutan 10-0 in October, their fourth consecutive win in a group that also contains Oman and Maldives.

Discussing the team’s progress, Barakat said: "It’s a great performance by Palestine, but we need to back it up by continuing to work. We want to end the Asian Cup qualifiers as we started. It’s important for the team before the draw for the finals."

Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestinian Football Association, voiced his appreciation of the work Barakat is doing: "The results have come, first and foremost, because of the continued efforts of the coaching staff and the players. They are showing how much Palestinian football has come on."

A run of success Palestine’s hopes of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ ended when they finished behind Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in Group A of the second qualifying round in the AFC Zone. They gained speedy consolation, however, when the Asian Cup qualifiers got under way. After kicking off with a 3-0 win away to Maldives in Male, they then went on to beat Oman 2-1 at home.

The Palestinians continued their fine form in September and October, claiming three points in Bhutan before putting the Bhutanese to the sword again with that thumping home win. The nation’s all-time World Ranking high has clearly motivated Barakat’s players, who made it five victories out of five earlier this week with an 8-1 home defeat of Maldives.

Palestine are the only side in the qualifiers with a perfect record, and in the lead-up to Tuesday’s victory over Maldives their coach stressed the importance of maintaining their winning streak: "It’s going to build the players' confidence and help the team to keep climbing the World Ranking."

With even more points to their name now following this week’s victory, Barakat’s unstoppable charges can expect to rise even higher when the next Ranking is published on 23 November. Make no mistake – 2017 has been a year to remember for Palestinian football.