In a few months time, Palestine will be playing on Asia's biggest stage, something we've aspired to since re-joining FIFA. Happy as we are to be here, we are in it to get results.
Of course, Group D is no cakewalk!
Palestine is drawn alongside: Japan (defending champion; all around Asian powerhouse), Jordan (not-so-World Cup qualifier, but almost there!), and Iraq (winner of the 2007 edition). Spin it as you wish, this is no easy group. If anything, the three teams will be looking at us as the punching bag.
To put things into historical perspective, Palestine's record against Jordan is (0-4-3); against Iraq it is (0-2-9) - keeping in mind that in two of these matches, an unready squad was sent like sheep to a slaughter for the political symbolism of playing Iraq in Erbil and Baghdad (you can thank the PFA for that). Still a pretty lopsided record. Palestine's opening match against Japan will be the first encounter between the two sides.
Given the above, you might wonder why we think we have any chance getting through the group at all. Well, Palestinian football has come a long way in recent years. The West Bank Professional League has produced competitive talent, the national team adopted a dynamic attacking style of play (we can hope that this doesn't fade away with Jamal Mahmoud's resignation), more players are plying their trade regionally, and new world class Palestinian talent has been identified abroad that will enable the team to butt heads with Asia's best. In short, the potential is there.
Jamal Mahmoud's resignation as manager was very unfortunate. It remains to be seen what the ramifications are, but there is no time to dwell on things. I expect a replacement manager to be named before the Saudi Arabia friendly in November. Saeb Jendeya has been playing a caretaker role in the meantime, and I don't think his debut tournament (as a coach for the first time ever) should be the Asian Cup. A local name who knows the league and can hit the ground running would be the ideal candidate.
With friendlies against Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and China in the coming months, we should be able to gauge our expectations better.
Here we go, this is exciting!