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DOHA: Musab Al-Battat has led Palestine on the pitch with his all-action performances and off it as the voice of a team who have battled the odds to reach the Asian Cup knockout rounds for the first time.
The 30-year-old captain will be the man his team look to once again for inspiration when Palestine face hosts and reigning champions Qatar in a daunting last-16 tie on Monday.
Palestine’s first time in the knockout rounds of the regional championship was sealed with their first ever victory in the tournament, 3-0 over Hong Kong.
The attacking defender set up two of the goals and was named man of the match.
“He is the kind of captain who leads by example,” said Bassil Mikdadi, founder of the Football Palestine website.
“The story or the journey of Palestinian football over the last 10 years can be told through Musab Al-Battat,” added Mikdadi.
The right-back made his international debut in 2013 and is at his, and the team’s, third Asian Cup.
The side ranked 99 in the world have progressed into the next round despite a deeply troubled build-up overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war in the Palestinian territory of Gaza.
Some of the players have lost loved ones and have family trapped in Gaza. The team trained and played matches abroad in the build-up to their third Asian Cup.
As skipper and a highly respected senior player, Battat has been the public voice and face of the team in Qatar.
Wearing the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh headscarf along with his team tracksuit, he emerged at the opening ceremony to deliver the players’ oath in front of more than 80,000 spectators.
Normally it would be the host nation’s skipper who does it.
On the eve of Palestine’s first game, which ended in a 4-1 defeat to Iran, Battat described what being at the Asian Cup meant to him and his team-mates.
“We as players are part of the Palestinian people and live through the same suffering as the people,” said Battat.
Battat plays for his hometown club of Shabab Al-Dhahiriya SC in the West Bank Premier League and, except for a period in Egypt, has spent his whole career in Palestinian football.
He has won 61 caps, scoring once and making six assists, since his debut over a decade ago.
He has played every minute of the Asian Cup campaign and won more tackles than any other play at the tournament with 12, according to stats experts Opta.
He has also created seven chances — second only to Paris Saint-Germain’s Lee Kang-in, with eight for South Korea.
Battat set up two of the goals against Hong Kong, flying down the right to deliver pinpoint crosses on both occasions which ended in headed goals.
Added to a 1-1 draw against the UAE, it was enough to advance to the next stage as one of the four best third-placed teams in the group phase.
“He’s softly spoken but there’s a ton of respect for him because of the work he puts in,” Mikdadi told AFP in Doha.
“He’s the toughest trainer on the pitch, super professional, takes care of his body, gets the right amount of sleep, eats right.
“He’s the type of personality that people gravitate to because when they know it’s time to get serious and get down to work, they look toward what he is doing and they follow his lead.”
Battat was named man of the match against Hong Kong but, after delivering another captain’s performance, said that it was not about personal accolades.
“We believed in our group (of players) and team spirit,” he said.
“Reaching the last 16 showcased the spirit of the Palestinian players and we aim to maintain this spirit for future success.”