I would not be the first to say this, but by all metrics, Palestine have won the World Cup by their sheer presence off the pitch. The amount of Palestinian flags in the stands and on the streets of Doha makes one think that the tournament is being hosted in Dura, Ramallah, Lyd, Al-Khalil, and Ras Al Naqoura and not Doha, Al-Rayyan, Lusail, Al-Khor, and Ras Al Aboud.
Fans of the four Arab Teams have flown the Palestinian flag at the matches of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco. The latter two teams went a step further with the players draping themselves in the famous triangle and tricolor following famous victories over France, Belgium, Canada, Spain and Portugal.
Remarkably, fans from across the world have also been swept up in a celebration of Palestinian culture with Ana Dammi Falastini proving to be a popular tune in the streets of Souq Waqif. Such scenes prompted O Globo to declare that there are 33 teams at the World Cup– with Palestine being represented everywhere.
— الرسالة للإعلام (@Alresalahpress) November 26, 2022
There was also love and admiration expressed by Brazil manager Tite when a Palestinian supporter draped in the flag helped carry the tactician’s daughter carry her young son two kilometers from Lusail Stadium to the metro station.
المُشجع حامل علم فلسطين الذي ساعد عائلة المدرب تيتي بعد مباراة صربيا تم دعوته لحضور تدريبات المنتخب البرازيلي pic.twitter.com/z9CgxvHtoE
— COPE (@COPE_AR) November 30, 2022
Tite took time in a press conference to thank the man, express his admiration for Arab culture, and invited him to a Brazil training session where he was given a shirt signed by the entire squad.
Morocco’s historic run to the semifinals has guaranteed that Palestine remains a fixture until at least the penultimate day of the tournament.
Yes, There is a Palestinan National Team
Tired of being snubbed and reminded of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people an Israeli journalist lashed out and asked a fan “We have a national team, do you have a national team?” (16:34 of the Al-Saleet Al-Ekhbari clip linked below)
في مقطع في اخر حلقة من السليط الاخباري على قناة ajplusarabi@ صحيفي اسرائيلي يسأل: هل لديكم🇵🇸 منتخب؟ يبدو لا يعرف او لا يريد ان يذكر ماذا حدث بين نوفمبر ٢٠١٧ و سبتمبر ٢٠١٨ عندما فلسطين كانت تحتل مركز اعلى من منتخب الكيان في تصنيف الفيفا و الذي ادى إلى ضجة اعلامية كبيرة #كأس_العالم https://t.co/aMMLPM98To pic.twitter.com/mP7ghlHdHm
— FootballPalestine.com (@FutbolPalestine) December 6, 2022
What the man failed to realize is that not only does Palestine have a national team; they were actually ranked below Palestine for a period of 10 months between November 2017 and September 2018. This is quite the feat given the fact that UEFA opponents had a higher coefficient in the FIFA ranking.
Palestine are currently ranked 15th in Asia and 94th in the World. The team qualified for their third successive Asian Cup earlier this year.
How far did they get in qualifying for Qatar 2022? Frustratingly, the Palestine Football Association which is widely known as an inhibitor of the team’s ability stuck with an unpopular and ineffective coach for a little too long. In 2019, the team under the interim stewardship of the Algerian Noureddine Oul Ali crashed out of the Asian Cup group stage without scoring a goal and securing only two 0-0 draws vs Syria and Jordan sandwiched in between a 3-0 capitulation to Australia.
Palestine kicked off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign by beating Uzbekistan 2-0 (largely regarded as the 5th or 6th best team in Asia over the past decade) and also outplayed Saudi Arabia in a 0-0 draw. The team failed to progress to the next round (featuring the top 12 Asian teams) thanks to surprise losses at the hands of Singapore (2-1) and Yemen (1-0). When the PFA finally decided to dismiss the coach, Palestine routed those teams 4-0 and 3-0, respectively under the guidance of Tunisian Makram Dabboub.
The damage was already done though and a talented Palestine side exited qualifying early.
Signs of Progress
Palestinian football has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years and with the World Cup expanding from 32 to 48 teams there is a very real chance Palestine could qualify for the North American World Cup in 2026.
Palestine, in qualifying matches, have been lights out under their new coach, Makram Dabboub registering five straight wins by a combined score of 17-0.
Oday Dabbagh, a 24-year-old Jerusalemite, has gone from playing in the West Bank Premier League to becoming FC Arouca’s best player in the Portuguese top flight in the space of just three years.
Al-Fida’i can also count on the services of Rami Hamadi- one of Asia’s best goalkeepers- who has 20 clean sheets to his name in 35 international matches, conceding a meager 24 goals in the process.
There are many other talented players coming through the ranks that should give fans hope for the future.
When Will Palestine Play Next?
Palestine’s national team will camp in Saudi Arabia in February ahead of the 2023 West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Championship in March. That tournament is a relatively minor one and will be used to experiment and finalize the squad ahead of the start of World Cup qualifying and the 2023 Asian Cup due to be held in Qatar (confusingly in January 2024). There will be friendly matches following the end of the league season in May throughout the summer and during the friendly windows in September and October.
Palestine will begin its United2026 qualification campaign on November 14, 2023. Details on how the qualifying format works can be found here.
Ways to Support Palestine during the 2023 Asian Cup & 2026 World Cup Qualifying?
Start a Watch Party
Do you live in Palestine or amongst Palestinians? Consider hosting a watch party for Palestine’s matches. If you live in the United States, Canada, or Mexico you can consider this the first step to creating a supporters’ group for Palestine’s possible qualification to the World Cup Finals in 2026.
Plan a Trip to Qatar in January 2024
If you watched the World Cup dreaming about attending matches in the stadium then you have a second chance in a year’s time to live the dream at a fraction of the price. Qatar will host the 2023 Asian Cup and they will use the same stadiums for the tournament. Palestine will be amongst the 24 participating teams and you could be in the stadium to cheer on Al-Fida’i.
Tickets will be relatively cheap. At the 2019 edition ticket prices for the group stage ranged between $7 and $21 and accommodation prices will not be set at usurious levels.
The draw for the 2023 Asian Cup will take place in February 2023.
Share and Like on social media
If you love Palestine and love Football consider following FootballPalestine.com on social media (@FutbolPalestine). Football Palestine has been in operation since 2008 and provides in-depth coverage of the national team, Palestinian players playing abroad, as well as the local leagues. There are several accounts on Instagram and Facebook that also provide updates in Arabic, as well.
Travel to Support the Team during 2026 Qualifying
Thinking of traveling back home? Or want an excuse to travel to an exotic Asian location? The draw for World Cup qualification should take place over the summer months of 2023. The dates for the first round of qualifying matches are as follows: November 16, 2023, November 21, 2023, March 21, 2024, March 26, 2024, June 6, 2024, and June 11, 2024.
Sign up for a Grassroots Initiative
For those looking for a more active participation in Palestinian Football why not consider becoming a part-owner in a Palestinian club for a small yearly fee? Find out more about the Canaan FC project, here.