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.