With help from diaspora, Palestinians hope for Asian Cup surprise


The Palestinian football team are taking part in their second-ever Asian Cup in the coming days, and team members born in various parts of the world are hoping to spring a few surprises.

The team qualified four years ago for the first time but crashed out in ignominious fashion, losing all three games to an aggregate score of 11-1.

This year, with the help of several players from the Palestinian diaspora, they hope to do better.

Around five million Palestinians live in the blockaded Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, but around another six million are estimated to live elsewhere.

Chilean defender Alexis Norambuena said the players speak in a mix of languages to understand each other.

“Football is a way to give some joy to the people and for us to represent them in this cup that is quite important for the country,” he said.

“We aim to represent them and give them enough joy so the people can be entertained a bit.”

The tournament begins in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.

Back home in the West Bank, football lovers are also willing their players on to new heights.

At a recent second division league game, player Sameh Sheikha told AFP that the team’s participation “represents a country at a time when we are still living under occupation.”

“We hope the team achieves good results this time, because the team has become stronger than before,” he said.

There are perhaps cautious reasons for optimism.

Despite being made up of mostly amateurs, the team beat Bhutan 10-0 on aggregate to qualify for the tournament.

This and other good results saw them rise to a record high 75th in the FIFA world rankings, though they have since slipped back to 99th. (PTI)

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