Male: A second half free-kick from tournament leading scorer Ashraf Al Fawaghra proved the difference as Palestine won the final edition of the AFC Challenge Cup with Friday’s 1-0 victory over the Philippines at the National Stadium also securing qualification for the next year’s AFC Asian Cup.
Al Fawaghra crucially netted his fourth goal of the tournament a minute before the hour mark as Palestine completed an unbeaten campaign without conceding a goal.
And with the winner of the fifth edition of the AFC Challenge Cup also securing the 16th and final berth at the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015, Palestine will join defending champions Japan, Jordan and Iraq in Group D.
After a pre-match rain shower brought welcome relief to players on both sides in the late evening humidity, Palestine enjoyed the better of the early chances as Helal Mousa flashed wide after eight minutes following a slip by defender Amani Aguinaldo on the edge of the area.
And it was Philippines goalkeeper Roland Muller who was first called into serous action after 16 minutes to beat away Khader Abuhammad’s shot from inside the area from Al Fawaghra’s pull back.
Muller remained the busier of the two goalkeepers as the Philippines custodian took no chances with Abdulhamid Abuhabib’s swerving strike from the edge of the area 12 minutes later before comfortably gathering a weak effort from Al Fawaghra.
And with the Philippines seemingly content to allow Palestine the majority of possession as the Azkals sat back deep in their own half, Muller was again called into action 13 minutes before half-time to deny Abuhabib.
The Philippines, though, finally registered an effort of note six minutes later as Paul Mulders flashed wide from the edge of the area after the Azkals’ first corner of the contest had only been partially cleared.
And despite playing on the backfoot for the majority of the first half, the Philippines should have opened the scoring four minutes before half-time as Stephan Schrock’s through ball was missed by two Palestine defenders on the edge of the area, but with only goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh to beat, Phil Younghusband blazed over.
Palestine also had their best chance of the opening 45 minutes soon after as Muller and Aguinaldo eventually combined to deny Al Fawaghra and Abuhabib a minute later.
The Philippines suffered a blow at half-time as Schrock, who had looked far from his best in the first half due to a hamstring injury, was replaced by Jerry Lucena.
And the Philippines nearly found themselves behind six minutes before the hour mark as defender Haytham Theeb headed against the post with Muller rooted to the spot in the centre of his goal.
But the Philippines were not as lucky five minutes later as Al Fawaghra’s free-kick from 25 yards out in the centre of the goal following a foul on the striker my Jason De Jong curled over the wall and into the top corner past Muller’s despairing dive.
And despite the Philippines needing a goal to salvage their campaign, it was Palestine who continued to look the more likely to find the next goal, with Azkals coach Thomas Dooley attempting to force a way back into the contest by introducing forward Kenshiro Daniels for full-back Simone Rota with eight minutes remaining.
But the Philippines were unable to pose a serious threat to Palestine’s fifth cleansheet of the tournament in the closing stages, and Jamal Mahmoud’s side saw out a deserved victory.