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.

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.”