More than football

This is the first piece I published on In Bed With Maradona


Dreaming with others is the beginning of reality, according to Dom Helder Camara. Who knows if the power of collective dreaming will be enough, for Palestine, to continue and hope to reach a berth in the 2014 World Cup. To accomplish this mission, they’ll have to come back after an away 1-0 loss to Thailand, in their first official match under the new coach, Winfried Schaafers.

It will be a deja vu for Palestine. On March 9, in fact, the clash against Thailand represented more than the first step for two minnows on the road to the qualification for the London Olympics. Forty-nine years after the Palestinian FA’s formation and 13 after its formal recognition by FIFA, that game was the first competitive international match ever played on Palestinian soil.

As it happened on Saturday, Thailand had won 1-0 at home in the first leg. As it will happen next Thursday, that match had been played at the pompously called Faisal al-Husseini stadium in Ram, named after the founder of the General Union of Palestinian students died in 2001.

The stadium is in a populated Arab suburb, north of Jerusalem, just 100m away from the West Bank barrier, used four years ago as a parking lot for Israeli tanks during its incursion to the Gaza strip. It’s a very symbolical location, given that travel restrictions for players living outside the West Bank are the main problem the team has to face. When qualification for the 2006 World Cup began, for example, only nine players had the chance to travel to Doha to face Uzbekistan. It’s emblematic of the remaining difficulties the case of the midfielder Suleiman Obied, 29, born in Gaza who hasn’t seen his family since three years.

For that historical first home clash to Thailand, Israel denied eight Gaza-based players to make the short travel to Ramallah. However, four were permitted to pass: their approval came directly from General Eitan Dagot, the highest Israeli military authority in the Palestinian territories. One of them, Abdulhamid Abuhabib scored the only goal of the match that drove Palestine to the penalty shots: in the end, Thailand won 6-5.

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