From 20 teams in qualification to 8 teams in the final tournament, we are down to the final 2 participants in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup. The two teams that will contest the final, Palestine and the Philippines, are certainly deserving of reaching the championship match. Each progressed through qualifying without a defeat or allowing a goal, and both teams have remained undefeated in the final tournament. Not only did both progress through the Group Stage undefeated, both teams didn’t concede a single goal in the Group Stage.
In our team previews ahead of the tournament, we had a pretty good read on which teams were likely to progress. We had the final order of Group A exactly correct, but Group B was not as clean. We had Afghanistan advancing with Laos finishing last, but we took a lot of heat from our readers in the Philippines for projecting them not to advance. We apologize! It had nothing to do with the strength of the Philippines, but rather the uncertainty surrounding Turkmenistan. We certainly overrated the strength of Turkmenistan, as they had only played 2 matches in the previous 18 months. Our rankings now more appropriately reflect their strength.
If we had to do it all over, we certainly wouldn’t make that mistake again. After the results of the Group Stage, our predictor liked both Palestine and Philippines to advance in their semifinal matches, and true to form, those two advanced. We’ll save our final prediction for the end.
To this point, Palestine has played 7 matches in qualification and the finals. They have scored 15 goals and have STILL yet to concede. To make this even more impressive, these matches were all played in road and neutral venues! Surely in the semifinals, Afghanistan was looking to avenge their defeat in 2014 World Cup Qualifying at the hands of Palestine. But it was not to be. The West Asian nation emerged victorious yet again, via a brace from striker Ashraf Nu’Man. He has now scored 14 goals for the national team in the last 2 and a half years. No other Palestinian has come close to equaling that total.
But the real story in our opinion is the play of Ramzi Saleh. He has clean sheets in all 7 matches of the AFC Challenge Cup qualification and finals. It’s tough to lose when you allow 0 goals. Saleh dislocated his finger during the match with Afghanistan, but that still did not stop him from keeping the Afghans off the board. He will need to be up to the task against a Philippines side which has scored 16 goals in 6 matches of this tournament. Palestine’s backline has also done a phenomenal job in this tournament.
Additionally, Palestine will make a massive jump in the FIFA rankings in June (of course we already knew they were far better than their FIFA Ranking). Their previous high was #115, which they should break regardless of the result in this match.
As indicated above, the Philippines have mostly dominated the opposition in this competition. Prior to the match with Maldives, they had scored 13 goals against 0 allowed. Defeating the host nation, however, was no easy task. The Azkals needed extra time to get past the Maldives, as Chris Greatwich was there to clean up the garbage in the 104th minute to score the game winner. Surely this goal was the highlight of Greatwich’s international career. Also scoring was Phil Younghusband, who missed the first match against Afghanistan. He’s now scored twice in 3 matches.
Likewise with the Palestinians, the Philippines have received a very strong performance in goal from Roland Müller. Müller certainly had the save of the tournament in stoppage time against Maldives’ captain Ali Ashfaq. With the score tied in the dying minutes of regulation, Ashfaq struck a ball that was ticketed for the far corner of the net. Müller reacted, dove at full stretch to his right, and got just enough of the shot to deflect it wide. It’s safe to say that the Azkals would not be in this position if not for the stellar play of their keeper.
Not to be outdone, the Philippines can also break their all time high FIFA Ranking of #127 with a result in the finals.
These are the two best teams in qualifying, and in the tournament, and this should be an outstanding matchup. Palestine have scored 15 and conceded 0 while Philippines have scored 16 and conceded just 2. You can’t ask for much more. These teams have met on 2 previous occasions. Philippines defeated Palestine 4-3 in the 3rd place match of the 2012 edition of the AFC Challenge Cup. They also played to a goalless draw in 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualification. There is nothing separating the teams there.
We wouldn’t expect the wild 4-3 scoreline similar to when these teams last met. This one should be much lower, given the way each team is defending. Don’t be surprised to see the heroes of the semifinals rear their heads again with a trip to Australia and Asian Cup 2015 on the line.
These teams are so close in quality that our predictor thinks this will end in a draw. Obviously there must be a winner in this match, so we’ll defer to the team with the edge in our rankings. We currently have Palestine ahead by 11 places, which is worth less than half a goal. We see this one going to kicks, with Palestine ultimately emerging as the winners of the AFC Challenge Cup and punching their ticket to the AFC Asian Cup.
Result: Palestine 1 – Philippines 1 (Palestine wins on kicks)
We hope you enjoyed reading our final preview. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @We_Global for the latest news, predictions and commentary. Agree or disagree with our prediction? Feel free to leave a comment below! Thanks for reading.