Palestinian Soccer Team Seeks World Cup Glory Amid Gaza Turmoil

Mohammed Rashid, a former forklift driver, and his Palestinian soccer team strive for World Cup qualification amidst the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. This achievement offers hope and respite to their war-torn homeland. Despite political and logistical challenges, the team remains determined to inspire Palestinians through their performance on the field.

PTI | Perth | Updated: 11-06-2024 09:51 IST | Created: 11-06-2024 09:51 IST
Palestinian Soccer Team Seeks World Cup Glory Amid Gaza Turmoil
Mohammed Rashid
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Mohammed Rashid once worked as a forklift driver in a Chicago warehouse. Fast forward to these grim times, and Rashid, along with his Palestinian soccer teammates, carries a heavier weight knowing success on the field offers a little respite from the war raging in Gaza.

Amid the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war, now in its eighth month, an inspired Palestinian squad has produced a stirring run to reach the third round in Asia of World Cup qualifying for the first time. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Rashid said in Perth on Monday, on the eve of his team's last second-round game against Australia. "We're here for one cause and one goal.

The Palestinian team, 93rd in the world rankings, has never come close to reaching the World Cup via the Asian Football Confederation's qualifying route. With the 2026 World Cup expanding to 48 teams, and Asia's automatic qualification allocation doubling to eight, there's a better chance to make history.

The Palestinians play Australia at HBF Park on Tuesday to complete the Asian second round, both teams are safely through to September's next stage. Despite discouragement from team officials to engage in politically charged questions, players are willing to discuss the devastation in Gaza.

"Of course, it's (World Cup) a big dream," Rashid said. "Everything is possible. There's a lot of hard work that needs to be done before we get there." The war was sparked after Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, mostly civilians, and took around 250 people hostage.

Playing ''gives the chance to raise the name of Palestine to the whole world, and the World Cup is the biggest platform for this," said Rashid, a defensive midfielder.

While most United Nations members do not recognize Palestine as a country, including the U.S. and Australia, the Palestine Football Association became a full member of FIFA in 1998. The team affectionately known as Al Fida'i (The Warriors) had only moderate success at the continental level until recently. With a disciplined style of play, mirroring the resolve of its players, the Palestinian team has conceded only one goal in five matches in this qualifying cycle.

It's been a remarkable effort given the team hasn't played on home soil since 2019, having been forced to host matches in Kuwait and Qatar. Rashid, who plays club soccer for Bali United in Indonesia, said the hardest part of competing in international competition was not being able to play at home.

Rashid and his teammates are hoping to put political setbacks aside and continue to offer inspiration for Palestinians. "When it comes to (soccer), you try to get your head out of it,'' he said. The soccer team's international matches "is the only thing they (Palestinians) are watching. The only thing giving them hope," Rashid explained. "For us this is a big motivation."

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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