Alexa

Palestine coach faces hurdles ahead of game

Palestine coach faces hurdles ahead of game

Izzat Hamzeh couldn't help the smile on his face Tuesday as he watched his football team practice. After all, the Palestine national team coach had actually managed to get a squad together.
While the biggest concern for most national team coaches often involves injuries to star players, the problems facing Hamzeh is usually of a more basic nature _ getting all his players out of the Gaza Strip and West Bank for away matches.
This time, he achieved the feat of getting his team together with 24 hours to spare, ahead of Wednesday's friendly against local team FC Brussels.
"This is one of our major victories, that under all these circumstances we still manage to operate," he said.
The match marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations UNRWA agency for Palestinian refugees. But instead of a normal squad of 22, Hamzeh had to be content with 16. And seven of those from the Gaza Strip needed three days to get into Belgium, held up by Israeli checkpoints and administrative burdens to get travel permits, he said.
It leaves him precious little time for tactical preparations. But, he said, he doesn't need to spend any time on motivational speeches.
"Imagine somebody who came here and spent three days on checkpoints," he said. "He doesn't need motivation. He is already motivated."
The players were not available for interviews Tuesday.
Football is still played in half of the Palestinian territories, with the West Bank maintaining a league while players in Gaza, at the other side of Israel, have been grounded. There are heavy travel restrictions between the two parts.
During the three-week Israeli offensive against rocket squads in mid-January, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, according to a Palestinian human rights group. Hamzeh remembers making phone calls to find out if some players were hurt, or worse. Two former players on the Palestinian national team were killed, he said.
And when it comes to away matches, things don't always work out as well as this week.
The Palestinians missed a World Cup qualifying game in Singapore in late 2007 because of Israeli travel restrictions, and were eliminated in the first round of qualifying.
Such setbacks have taken its toll.
Palestine reached its highest FIFA ranking of 115th in 2006, when it made the penultimate qualifying round for the Asian Cup, but has now fallen to 171st. Draws against Nepal and Kyrgyzstan didn't help, and Hamzeh has been increasingly criticized at home.
For the Brussels friendly, Hamzeh said he was without four of his best players, as professional clubs in other nations are not obligated to release players for suck friendlies.
Still, playing a match in Europe again has the freshness of a new beginning.
Hamzeh himself was born in a refugee camp outside Jericho in 1957 and moved to another in Jordan during his youth. He soon discovered the joys of football.
"It was our life because there was nothing to do after school, except playing on sandy pitches," he remembered. "We collected money to buy a small ball and this ball bound us as a neighborhood."
There is a similar bond now, which means Hamzeh doesn't have to worry about any political infighting between players of the West Bank's Fatah and Gaza's Hamas.
"On the level of players: no Fatah, no Hamas, no political issue," Hamzeh said. "They are one team. Nobody talks about it."


Updated : 2020-12-01 05:19 GMT+08:00