Palestine dreaming of Asian Cup quarter-final berth


Thriving at the Asian Cup against all odds, Palestine hope their round-of-16 "celebration" against hosts Qatar can turn into a triumph that extends their extraordinary run in Doha and sends hope back home.

Palestine have been well-supported in Doha, including from fans of other teams, especially amid Israel's military action in Gaza, and qualified for the knockouts for the first time as one of the four best third-placed finishers.

That is expected to continue in their round-of-16 match at the 68,000-capacity Al-Bayt Stadium on Monday (3am Tuesday AEDT), despite facing the hosts.

"It will be a football celebration, however on the pitch it will be a competition," striker Tamer Sayem said.

That Palestine even reached this point is impressive, given what players and staff have been dealing with.

Some players have lost loved ones, or have family trapped in Gaza, while the team has played World Cup qualifiers and friendlies overseas, along with completing their Asian Cup preparations away from home.

Conflict in the region escalated when Islamist militants linked to Hamas attacked southern Israel from Gaza on October 7, when more than 1200 Israelis were killed and 240 taken hostage, according to Tel Aviv officials.

In response, Israel's bombardment, blockade and ground invasion of Gaza has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, put half the territory's 2.3 million residents at risk of starvation and left more than 60 per cent without homes, according to local health officials and the UN.

The game will take place just days after the United Nations International Court of Justice ruled Israel must prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians and do more to help civilians caught in the conflict.

"We aspire to qualify to the quarter-final and all of the players are one family despite the difficult situation that Palestine are going through," Sayem said through a translator.

"We need the win more than any team in this tournament."

Palestine's Tunisian coach Makram Daboub insisted all the pressure was on reigning champions Qatar as he attempts to mastermind a new landmark.

When asked why he had taken on the Palestine job, as a Tunisian, he noted he had lived there for 14 years.

"Palestine is in the heart of every Tunisian," he said.

"The Palestinian cause is our cause and it's inside us."