Football finally comes home for Palestinian national team

Mokhtar Tlili, the Tunisian coach of the Palestinian national football team, gave his players a pep talk yesterday as they prepared for the first official match played on their home turf. "Be courageous out there," he said. "Don't be afraid."

The Palestinian team will face Thailand today as part of the Asian group in a qualifying match for the London Olympics in 2012. Thailand won 1-0 at their first meeting last month.

The game is being marked here as no less than an historic event for the Palestinian team, which until now has played only friendly matches in its upgraded stadium in Al-Ram, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem. Official matches in previous years were played outside the Palestinian territories, usually in Jordan and Qatar, because of security concerns and a lack of infrastructure.

"This is more than just a game," said Abdel Majid Hijjeh, secretary general of the Palestinian Football Association. "It breaks the siege on Palestinian sports and the Palestinian people."

He was referring to the extraordinary circumstances under which the Palestinian team, divided between the West Bank and isolated Gaza Strip, has been put together. Permits had to be obtained from Israel for the entry of players from Gaza to the West Bank, and only six out of 11 were allowed in. Three arrived too late for registration, so only three will be taking the field.

Tlili, the coach for the past year, says he has had to leave the West Bank every three months and stay outside the territory for several weeks at a time before returning, under Israeli regulations governing permits to stay in the territory. He only returned on Monday to prepare for today's match. His players have been training with local coaching assistants. "The conditions are difficult, but what can you do?" said Tlili. "This is occupation."

Recruiting players for the Palestinian squad has been a challenge for the much-travelled coach. Tlili said he identified outstanding players from Gaza

on television broadcasts of matches, through media reports and with the help of a Palestinian colleague who coaches the national team contingent in the Gaza Strip. He recruited a player of Palestinian origin living in Sweden, and says he plans to find more who are playing in European teams.

Bringing the West Bank and Gaza players together after training separately has not been easy. "We have problems understanding one another on the field and playing in harmony," said Muhammad al-Sidudi, 20, a player from Gaza.

The Gaza players arrived only a few weeks ago, before the first match in Thailand. "Co-ordination between players takes a long time, at least six months, and the weeks we've been practising is not enough," said Mustafa Abu Qweik, 21, the team captain, who is from Ramallah. "What we lack in skills, we make up in fighting spirit.

"We can play despite all the pressures. Every player aspires to represent Palestine on an Olympic level, and we're proud. We hope to make Palestinians around the world happy."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: To work as part of the Le...

KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

£100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

KS2 Float Teacher required in Caerphilly

£100 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme plus free professional training: Randstad ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week