The draw for the 2012 Challenge Cup was held today and lady luck has smiled on Palestine placing it in Group A alongside hosts Nepal, 2010 Finalists Turkmenistan, and the Maldives.
It will be a trickier proposition for teams in Group B which includes 2010 winners Korea DPR, 2008 winners India, 2006 winners (and perennial semifinalist) Tajikistan, and an improving Philippines side.
The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals. Palestine will face Nepal on March 8th, Turkmenistan on March 1oth, and the Maldives on March 12th. Players will start with a clean disciplinary slate but Abdelatif Bahdari and Ismail Amour will not be available against Nepal after picking up two yellows in the qualifying round.
Palestine will be facing off against Turkmenistan and The Maldives for the first time in its history. The team has one meeting against Nepal- a 0-0 draw in Kathmandu in 2009- during 2010 Challenge Cup qualifying.
Palestine's best showing in this tournament came in 2006 when they advanced to the quarterfinals of the original 16-team tournament. Al-Fursan were the top scorers in that tournament behind Fahed Attal's 8 goals, which earned him the Golden Boot. Palestine withdrew from qualifying in 2008 when the team was refused exit visas by Israeli authorities. They reentered 2010 qualifying, earning two draws but were eliminated by virtue of an inferior goals scored record.
Turkmenistan and Maldives are developing associations participating in the Challenge Cup. Although the AFC has classified this tournament for emerging associations India, Maldives, Myanmar, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan (developing associations) as well as Korea DPR (a developed association) have all been allowed to participate.
The winner of this tournament will advance directly to the 2015 Asian Cup which will be held in Australia.