DOHA: Palestine booked a first ever appearance in the AFC Asian Cup™ knockout stage after defeating Hong Kong China 3-0 at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium.

Oday Dabbagh starred with a brace with Zeid Qunbar also finding the net as Palestine advanced despite finishing third in Group C, the victory also their first ever in AFC Asian Cup history.

Iran emerged top with a 2-1 win over United Arab Emirates, who finished ahead of Palestine on goal difference with both on four points.

Palestine were quick off the blocks, putting Hong Kong under pressure with Dabbagh almost finding a way through in the fourth minute when he collected Mus’ab Al Battat’s pass from the top of the box before being forced wide by Oliver Gerbig.

Hong Kong responded through Yue Tze Nam, who saw his effort from outside the box blocked, while Everton failed to find the target from a set-piece situation, sending his strike over the bar.

Palestine, however, looked the more dangerous and took the lead in emphatic fashion in the 12th minute. Al Battat charged down the right flank before supplying a precise cross for Dabbagh to power home his header into the back of the net.

Wasted attempts by Tamer Seyam in the 21st minute and later from Dabbagh allowed Hong Kong some breathing space but they failed to maximise their chances, with Philip Chan Siu Kwan and Everton both failing to find the mark.

Hong Kong’s search for the equaliser left them vulnerable in defence but they were let off the hook in the 41st minute when Dabbagh received Seyam’s deflected pass from inside the box, only to hit his effort straight at custodian Tse Ka Wing.

The East Asian side could have drawn level just before the break when Everton waltzed past three Palestinian defenders into the box but his low drive was easily dealt with by goalkeeper Rami Hamada.

Palestine maintained their high-pressing game after the interval and were rewarded with their second goal in the 48th minute after Hong Kong failed to deal with Al Battat’s cross from the right once again with Qunbar finishing with a fine header.

Hong Kong refused to give up as they pushed forward, only to be caught off guard by Palestine when Hamada’s long goal kick found Seyam at the other end, whose effort from just above the box rebounded off the crossbar and landed kindly for Dabbagh to tap in.

Hong Kong earned a penalty in the closing stages of the game following a VAR decision, only for Everton to send his effort against the crossbar, leaving Palestine to celebrate their historic achievement – a first appearance in the knockout stage in three attempts.