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Palestinian team beats Philippines in AFC Challenge Cup final to qualify for Asian Cup

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MALE, Maldives - Ashraf Al Fawaghra scored with a brilliant free kick to give the Palestinian team a 1-0 victory over Philippines in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup on Friday and its first ever place in next year's Asian Cup.

The Palestinian team finished the tournament without conceding a goal in five matches. It pressured the Philippines from the onset before tournament top scorer Al Fawaghra curled over the wall off a 57th-minute free kick from 25 yards (meters).

Defending champion Japan will be the Palestinian team's opponent in the tournament opener at Newcastle, New South Wales, next year with 2007 winners Iraq and Jordan also in Group D.

The Palestinians dominated a defensive-looking Philippines as first Abdulhamid Abuhabib and then Al Fawaghra came close to putting their team ahead inside the opening 30 minutes.

The Philippines wasted their best chance when Paul Mulders' attempt went wide from the edge of the box off his team's first corner.

The Philippines also lost key player Stephan Schrock at halftime due to a hamstring injury.

Just before Al Fawaghra's match-winning goal, Haytham Theeb's header hit the post with Philippines goalkeeper Roland Muller beaten.

In the third place playoff, Maldives defeated Afghanistan 8-7 in a penalty shootout after the match finished 0-0 in regular time and 1-1 in extra time.

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