Warm welcome for Saudi football team in Ramallah

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The Saudi Arabian national team arrived in Ramallah on Sunday ahead of their 2022 World Cup qualifying match against Palestine to a heroes’ welcome. (Twitter/Screenshot)
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Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas receives members of the Saudi national football team. (Photo/Palestinian News Agency Wafa)
Updated 14 October 2019

Warm welcome for Saudi football team in Ramallah

  • The visiting team was visibly surprised by the huge turnout and welcome
  • The two national teams will play each other at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium

AMMAN: The Saudi national football team received a warm welcome in Ramallah two days before an important World Cup qualifying match against Palestine.

Arriving in a bus from Jordan to a huge sign saying “you have lit up Palestine,” the visitors headed to the headquarters of the Palestinian presidency in Ramallah.

President Mahmoud Abbas received the Saudis, telling them: “You have honored Palestine with your presence.”

After the meeting, the Saudi team was welcomed at the Millennium Hotel in downtown Ramallah.

“A dabkeh band welcomed them, and they were greeted by the mayors of the cities of Ramallah, Al-Bireh and Beitunia,” Susan Shalabi, deputy president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), told Arab News.

The Saudi team members were each given a Palestinian keffiyeh (headdress) and a rose. Shalabi said the PFA had been working nonstop to ensure that they felt welcomed.

“From the moment the Palestinian side received our visitors from the Jordanian side until they leave, we’re committed to ensuring that they’re at ease and can properly prepare for the football match,” she added.

“We’re very excited about the first- ever visit of a leading Arab national football team. This visit makes us feel that we’re not alone.” Shalabi expressed hope that this will pave the way for other teams from the Arab world.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Saudi team will have two training sessions, a closed technical meeting, and a joint press conference with the Palestinian team.

After the game, the Saudi team will have a press conference followed by a state dinner at the presidential headquarters.

The visiting team was visibly surprised by the huge turnout and welcome. There were street signs, the local Maan TV had a welcome sign on-air, and people waved to the team as its bus drove through Ramallah.

On his Facebook page, PFA President Jibril Rajoub posted a picture of Abbas and King Salman with the Palestinian and Saudi flags. Beneath the image were the words: “We welcome our Saudi brothers to Palestine.”

Ahmad Deek, political affairs adviser of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, told Arab News that the Saudi team’s visit reflects a courageous move by the friendly Saudi family. 

“It is a courageous decision that reflects a noble brotherly stand with our people and a true stand of solidarity against the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people.”

The two national teams will play each other at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium as part of the double qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 Asia Cup.

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

Updated 17 November 2019

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

  • World Cup semifinalists ‘still have room for improvement as they chase first major title since 1966’

PRISTINA:  Gareth Southgate is set to bring Raheem Sterling back from his brief England exile in Sunday’s qualifier against Kosovo as he seeks to end the controversy over the Manchester City star’s row with Joe Gomez.

Sterling was dropped for Thursday’s 7-0 rout of Montenegro after clashing with England team-mate Gomez in the Three Lions’ training base canteen.

It is believed Sterling was unhappy with Gomez following an altercation with the Liverpool defender during City’s Premier League defeat at Anfield last weekend.

Although Sterling was left out of the Montenegro game as punishment for his attack on Gomez, Southgate has confirmed the winger will return for England’s final Group A fixture.

Sterling and Gomez, left with a scratch under his eye after the incident, are said to have patched up their relationship, but the center-back was jeered by England fans at Wembley when he came on as a substitute against Montenegro.

Both Southgate and Sterling expressed their support for Gomez and criticized the booing supporters, with the England manager reportedly comforting the shocked 22-year-old and his family after the match.

Now Southgate could include Gomez against Kosovo in a show of support for the Liverpool player.

With England already guaranteed to qualify for Euro 2020 in first place in their group, Southgate already planned to make changes, although he is keen to ensure England finish with a win as they eye a top-six seeding in next year’s tournament.

“We will make some changes, for sure, but the seeding in the group could be critical and we know it’s a big night for the Kosovans,” Southgate said.

“It’s a shame for them that they’re now out of this part of the qualification, although they’ve still got the playoffs in which I think they’ll be a huge threat in that format. “So, it will be a good test for us because it will still be a lively environment.

“The enthusiasm for the game is high and we want to finish the group with as many points as we can.”

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson could return following a one-match ban, while Southgate has to decide whether to keep faith with Ben Chilwell ahead of Danny Rose at left-back.

Harry Kane may have scored a hat-trick against Montenegro but it was Leicester’s Chilwell who was named England’s man of the match following a fine display in which he provided three assists in the opening 24 minutes.

“Ben, I liked the hunger in his game, the enthusiasm to get forward,” Southgate said.

“The whole team pressed well but he also pressed well from that full-back position, got into overlaps, his quality of delivery was excellent.”

Although England have cruised through their qualifying group, Southgate believes the 2018 World Cup semifinalists still have room for improvement as they chase a first major title since 1966.

“There were a couple of chances we conceded that just shouldn’t happen, so that’s still part of our game that we’ve got to improve upon,” he said.

“If we are to be a team that are going to challenge seriously, although we’re young, we’ve got to manage games well.

“We’ve got to make sure that, although we’re such a fantastic attacking threat, the rest of the team is right as well. There are things we’ve got to be better at.”