Saudi Arabia held to goalless draw by Palestine in landmark West Bank World Cup qualifier

Saudi Arabia were held to a goalless draw by Palestine in Al-Ram on Tuesday in their historic 2022 World Cup qualifying clash in the West Bank. (Saudi Football Federation/AFC)
Updated 15 October 2019

Saudi Arabia held to goalless draw by Palestine in landmark West Bank World Cup qualifier

  • Game was first time Green Falcons had played in occupied territory
  • 15,000 football fans packed into Faisal Husseini Stadium

AMMAN: A long-awaited World Cup and Asia Cup qualifier between Saudi Arabia and Palestine ended in a 0-0 draw, keeping qualifying hopes alive for both teams.

The 72nd-ranked Saudi team keeps their second place in Group D with five points, while the 99th-ranked Palestinians are in third place with four points. Uzbekistan lead the group with six points.

Susan Shalabi, who is vice president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), said both teams were winners.

“We are grateful to our Saudi brothers for respecting our desire to play our home game at home, in Palestine, and we hope we were able to provide them with all they needed to be comfortable and game-ready,” she told Arab News.

“The biggest problem facing the PFA was the huge crowds wanting to watch the game,” she added.

“Palestinians from all walks of life, including children, were clamoring to attend this epic game and we did our best to accommodate as many as possible despite the fact that the stadium is not meant for such large crowds.”

A record crowd of 15,000 attended the match at Faisal Husseini Stadium, which is in a town north of Jerusalem.

“We had to accommodate so many people, many who wanted to watch the game even from the windows of the dressing rooms and the administrative offices,” she said.

Saudi and Palestinian flags were waved from the stands as both sides battled it out for 90 minutes without scoring despite many opportunities.

The PFA’s president, Jibril Rajoub, said the game was a “national carnival” and that he was happy it went as planned.

“The draw reflected the hard work of both teams who had a strong performance on the field. I am happy that our Saudi brothers came and left with their heads up high,” he told Arab News.

But for Qadri Hassan, who is head of the Jordanian Sports Writers Association, the real winner was the Palestinian cause.

“The Saudis showed patriotism by agreeing to respect Palestine’s desire to have their home game played at home, and were rewarded by an unprecedented wave of public support that went beyond Palestine to the entire Arab world,” he told Arab News. “After this visit, no team will refuse to play a Palestinian home game in Palestine.”

The veteran sportswriter and commentator said the time had come for FIFA and the Arab world to join forces in helping to build a much bigger stadium.

“Faisal Husseini Stadium is not built for such major games. Palestine needs an Olympic stadium with natural grass that can seat tens of thousands of spectators.”

Koreas in goalless draw North and South Korea played out a surreal 0-0 draw in front of an empty stadium and with no TV coverage as Australia smashed seven past Taiwan in Asian World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

On a busy night of qualifiers for Qatar 2022, Marcello Lippi’s China were also frustrated as they were held to a scoreless draw away to the Philippines.

But there was more action elsewhere as Adam Taggart, Jackson Irvine and Harry Souttar scored two apiece in Australia’s 7-1 rout of Taiwan. In other matches,  Japan’s Takumi Minamino scored twice and Takuma Asano got the other as the Samurai Blue defeated Tajikistan 3-0 in Dushanbe.

Iraq’s 4-0 thrashing of Cambodia was highlighted by Amjad Attwan’s belter which flew 25 yards and into the top corner past goalkeeper Keo Soksela.

Southeast Asian champions Vietnam humbled Indonesia 3-1 away and Uzbekistan beat Singapore by the same scoreline, thanks to Eldor Shomurodov’s second half double. And Ekanit Panya’s far-post finish secured a 2-1 win for Thailand over the UAE as they kept pace with Vietnam at the top of Group G.

Al-Hilal march on toward Saudi title as Al-Adalah face the drop

Updated 28 min 1 sec ago

Al-Hilal march on toward Saudi title as Al-Adalah face the drop

  • For Al-Hilal, the title edges nearer by the match

DUBAI: Leaders Al-Hilal edged closer to a record 16th Saudi Professional League title after a comfortable 4-0 win over Al-Adalah left them needing two more wins to ensure they cannot be caught by closest challengers and reigning champions Al-Nassr.

The Riyadh club hardly need any help in their seemingly unstoppable march towards yet another championship, but the fixture list had for good measure thrown up a visit to the team anchored at the bottom of the SPL table in round 25 of the disrupted campaign.

Romanian coach Răzvan Lucescu’s team had all but settled this season’s title race after beating Al-Nassr 4-1 in the first match after the enforced break due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This proved another procession.

Despite facing a surprisingly high press by Al-Adalah’s forward line, Al-Hilal quickly settled into their rhythm with Govinco pulling the strings in the middle of the park while Salem Al-Dawsari worked tirelessly down the right channel. And it was the Saudi international who set up the opening goal for Al-Hilal when his low cross was side-footed by Bafétimbi Gomis on the half hour. It was the Frenchman’s 19th league goal of the season, taking him level with Abderrazak Hamdallah of Al-Nassr at the top of the scoring charts.

The same player should have doubled the lead on 58 minutes when Al-Adalah goalkeeper Ali Al-Mazidi was caught outside his penalty area, but Gomis’s clipped shot just missed the open goal.

Two minutes later Naif Hazazi should have levelled the match after being set up by the on-loan Malian winger Adama Traore, but his right-footed shot missed the target from close range. On 72 minutes Traore himself came within inches of an equaliser when his stunning left footed shot struck Abdullah Al-Mayouf’s right-hand post.

A minute later Syrian international Omar Khrbin replaced Govinco, and almost immediately Gomis doubled Al-Hilal’s lead, tapping in another precise Al-Dawsari cross, this time from the right.

Al-Dawsari sealed his man-of-the-match performance with a sensational solo goal with 11 minutes left, dancing through the Al Adalah defence before curling the ball past Al Mazidi.

There was still time for Khrbin to make it 4-0 from the penalty spot after Saleh Al-Shehri was fouled in stoppage time by Radhi Al-Radhi, who received a red card for his troubles.

“It was an important win on the way to hopefully winning the league,” said the substitute Khrbin. “Another two or three matches and we can wrap up the title, but the most important thing today was the three points.”

The striker believes that the substitutions helped settle the match in Al-Hilal’s favours while restricting any potential for exhaustion.

“The coach has picked the right team for each match, and the players have always performed in the right spirit,” he said. “Today perhaps there was a conservation of effort, and it was very important that we scored that first goal. It made the match more straight forward.”

Mohammed Jahfali, returning to Al-Hilal’s defence, agreed that the coach’s selection exploited the depth of the squad.

“In terms of rotation, that is normal especially after the long break,” he said. “It’s impossible to play with the same 11 all the time because of the weather and tiredness. Our squad complement each other, and everyone is ready to step in.”

He would not comment on the destination of the SPL title, saying that as things stand, Al-Hilal cannot assume “one percent” that it’s already won.

Al-Adalah defender Bader Al-Nakhli thought the result did not reflect how his team played and backed his coach's decision to play the high press, rather than sit back and try to hit Al-Hilal on the counterattack.

“It’s harsh defeat,” he said. “We tried our best in the first half, we tried to contain them for as long as we could.”

“I think the coach had the right idea, the tactics were right and we closed them down,” Al-Nakhli said. “Yes, the high pressing game can be tiring, but after they scored the first goal the match became more open, especially in the second half. Now we have to play the last five matches as if they’re a separate tournament. We have to try and win every match so we can stay up.”

Al-Adalah are now on 20 points almost certainties for relegation, but Hazazi refused to make any excuses for the defeat.

“We didn’t expect to lose by four to be honest, the midfielder said. “From the start the team matched Al-Hilal, a team who are going for the league title and could be crowned in the next match or two. We managed to match a team like that until about the 65th minute, but mistakes happened, but we can’t blame anyone specifically.”

“We carried out the press from the start,” Hazazi added. “But we have to be honest, in this match we had nothing to lose. We have the capabilities to score, we had some chances that had we scored would have changed the match. But then all the substitutions probably didn’t help us, Al Hilal are a very big team.”

In the day’s other matches, relegation-threatened Damac recorded a valuable 2-0 win at Al-Taawoun, while Al-Faislay closed the gap on Al-Ahli in third place to two points with another 2-0 win.

For Al-Hilal, the title edges nearer by the match.