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FIFA: Palestinian home game historic

FIFA: Palestinian home game historic

Palestinians may not have a state, but now they have a way to express their national pride _ through football.
On Sunday, the national team was hosting an international match for the first time, in the West Bank's only regulation-size stadium. The stadium was renovated with the help of FIFA, football's governing body.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was on hand to cheer. "We are here to realize a dream, that is the national team of Palestine playing in its own stadium," Blatter said ahead of the friendly game against Jordan. He said the event was "historic."
Blatter was received like a head of state, and spent much of the day in the company of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinians said international recognition means a lot to them.
"We now have a stadium, and the Palestinian flag will be flying in this stadium," said Wissam Abu Sharif, a 30-year-old football fan. "Palestine is on the map of international sports."
It's not a football powerhouse, though. The Palestinian team is ranked 180th of 207 members by FIFA, peaking at No. 115 in April 2006.
Still, for an afternoon, football promised to make Palestinians forget their troubles, whether decades of Israeli military occupation or the acrimonious split between the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a football enthusiast, planned to watch the game on TV, even though the West Bank event was another expression of international support for his rival, Abbas.
Blatter started the day at Abbas' headquarters, where he laid a wreath on the grave of Abbas' predecessor, Yasser Arafat. The two men then opened a tournament of six women's teams, and a tournament named after Arafat.
Some of the female players wore headscarves with their uniforms.
Later Sunday, Blatter was to attend the Jordan-Palestine match at the 6,000-seat stadium in Ram, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem. The Palestinian team has existed for a decade, but until now had only played "home" games in Jordan and Qatar.
The stadium was renovated for $4 million, and on Sunday morning, workers were putting on the finishing touches. A bulldozer smoothed a dirt road to the stadium while workers hung banners from the game's sponsors.
The Palestinian team boasts players from Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Chile, but not all will play. Five of the team's six Gazan players were granted permits by Israel to travel to the West Bank, but the team's captain, Saeb Jundiyeh, was not.
"I am full of anger and sadness because I was denied being there for this historic event which I have always dreamed about," Jundiyeh said.
He added that he was in phone contact with his teammates and would watch the match with friends and family in Gaza.
Israel and Egypt have virtually sealed off Gaza from the world since the Islamic militant Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007. Gaza and the West Bank lie on opposite sides of Israel, and Gazans need Israeli permits to reach the West Bank.


Updated : 2021-04-16 07:03 GMT+08:00