Sydney: Palestine bowed out of their first Asian Cup on Tuesday, determined to learn from the experience of competing with the continent`s elite, but also pleading for a level-playing field in which to do so.
The outsiders made seven changes and produced a gutsy performance in a 2-0 Group D defeat by Iraq in Canberra on Tuesday, their best showing after a 4-0 loss to holders Japan in their opener and 5-1 thrashing by Jordan.
Head coach Ahmad Al Hassan said his side, ranked 115th by FIFA, would be better prepared for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers which begin later this year.
"We knew before the tournament that we would play with teams with high FIFA rankings, much higher than ours and we have gained and accumulated a lot of experience for our team for the future," the former international goalkeeper told reporters.
"There are huge lessons to be learned in such a great tournament like this. The players` experience having played three times here in Australia is definitely much better than before they came here and this will be reflected in the future.
"This was Palestine`s first participation in this tournament and I think that this is the beginning for Palestinian football, this is not the end."
Al Hassan only took charge of the team, recognised by world governing body FIFA in 1998, late last year after Jamal Mahmoud stepped down for personal reasons.
Mahmoud had ensured qualification for the Asian Cup by winning the now defunct AFC Challenge Cup for emerging nations in the Maldives in May.
That memorable victory had been achieved despite six players being blocked from travelling to the Maldives, the Palestine FA said.
The Palestinians say that Israel, which controls coming and going from Gaza and the West Bank, has been restricting the movement of Palestinian athletes and have urged FIFA to step in and hand out sanctions.
Israel cites security concerns for restricting movement between Gaza, controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, and the West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self-rule.
Al Hassan said the situation is hindering the development of the sport and could be blamed for his side`s worst record of the 16 finalists in Australia.
"We are the only nation in this tournament that is under occupation," he bemoaned.
"This means we don`t have the same resources.
"The players from Gaza cannot even play in one place, we have to leave Palestine for training.
"All these factors contributed negatively."