Fortune favours the brave as Palestine make history by reaching Asian Cup knockout round

With a 3-0 win over Hong Kong on Tuesday, Palestine sealed their place in the knockout round of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time ever -- as one of the four best-performing third-placed teams. Playmaker/MB Media/Getty Images

Heading into Tuesday's Group C action at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, Palestine knew they had plenty to do -- and then hope for -- if they were to be certain of making history by advancing out of the group stage for the first time ever.

They needed to beat Hong Kong, hope for an Iran triumph over United Arab Emirates, and erase a five-goal deficit between them and the Emiratis in the process.

In the end, they came up just short in that aspect.

Yet, for all the endeavour and valour they displayed, they got their reward in the end.

With two goals from Oday Dabbagh and one from Zaid Qunbar, they held up their end of the bargain with a dominant 3-0 win over Hong Kong and it initially looked as though the original scenario was indeed somehow going to eventuate with Iran leading UAE by two goals.

But a 93rd-minute strike from Yahya Al-Ghassani meant the Iranians would only be able to pull off a 2-1 victory.

With UAE and Palestine level on four points and having played out a draw in their own meeting -- negating head-to-head record as a tie breaker -- the former would finish in second place ahead of the latter on goal difference by a solitary strike.

Originally, the Palestinians would have faced a nervous wait to find out if they would advance as one of the four best-performing third-placed teams.

Nonetheless, with Groups A and B already concluded, and with Syria and China both ranking lower in the third-place team standings, Palestine's progress was confirmed.

In the end, they had their own sense of adventure to thank given the way they constantly looked to score more and more against Hong Kong.

Just a win was not enough for them. They knew they had to give themselves as much of a chance and they duly did just that.

With Palestine and Syria both on four points -- and China out of the equation with just two -- it was the fact that the former had scored five goals ensured there would be at least two teams below them, with the Syrians boasting just one goal to their names.

It proved to be an evening of real drama as it seemed at times that fate just would not be on Palestine's side, while they also did ride their luck a fair bit.

Iran twice had goals disallowed upon VAR review which would have given them a far healthier margin of victory than they had via a Mehdi Taremi double, and would have guaranteed the runners-up spot for the Palestinians.

Palestine did however look certain to concede against Hong Kong in injury-time of their own game, only for Everton Camargo to smash a penalty off the crossbar and inadvertently preserve a three-goal triumph for the West Asian outfit.

Ultimately, perhaps it was a case of fortune favouring the brave.

Having only made their Asian Cup debut in 2015, Palestine are now through to the knockout round for the first time in three attempts -- and they certainly did so because they gave it a real go.

Whatever they go on to achieve from here, the 2023 edition of the Asian Cup will always be one to remember for them.