Nazmi Albadawi said he’s going to play at the highest level possible. Ten years ago, that meant playing at Wake Tech College. This weekend, he’ll represent Palestine in the AFC Asian Cup.
After scoring 11 goals for FC Cincinnati last season, the central-attacking midfielder announced in November that he would play for the Palestine National Team. A few months later, that call-up led to a chance to represent the nation at the continent’s largest soccer tournament, which starts Saturday in the United Arab Emirates.
“I’m excited heading into the Asian Cup,” Albadawi said. “I can’t wait to be a part of it. It’s a very big tournament and a great opportunity for our country and for our team.”
The Asian Cup runs from Jan. 5 to Feb. 1 and features 24 countries playing in eight stadiums across four cities. For Albadawi and Palestine, their group includes Australia, Syria and Jordan. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage, while the four best third-place finishers — out of six — also advance.
The Australians competed at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia last summer, while Syria narrowly missed out after falling to Australia in a two-leg qualifying playoff. Palestine plays Syria on Sunday to start its cup campaign.
“We’re just taking it game-by-game, but our objective is to make it out of the group stage,” Albadawi said. “We’re in a tough group with Syria and Australia and Jordan, who are all very good teams. We believe in ourselves and think we have a strong team as well.”
Here’s the schedule for Palestine’s Group B matches:
Jan. 6 — Palestine vs. Syria
- 11 a.m. EST, Sharjah Stadium (Sharjah)
Jan. 11 — Palestine vs. Australia
- 6 a.m. EST, Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium (Dubai)
Jan. 15 — Palestine vs. Jordan
- 8:30 a.m. EST, Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium (Abu Dhabi)
“We’re only focused on Syria right now, but after that we’ll see what happens,” Albadawi said.
The FC Cincinnati midfielder made his debut for Palestine on Nov. 16 when he scored the game-winning goal in the 78th minute in a 2-1 win over Pakistan. He started against China in a 1-1 result on Nov. 20.
Palestine enters the Asian Cup ranked 110th internationally, according the latest FIFA World Cup rankings. The national team is seeking its first win in the tournament and will make its second appearance after debuting in 2015.
“It feels great to be able to represent my country in the Asian Cup,” Albadawi said. “It’s great to play against these teams, but it’s just the beginning.”