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Football
Palestine in historic football tie
Olympic qualifier against Thailand is first competitive game to be played in occupied territory for more than 50 years.
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2011 15:48 GMT
Rajoub, chair of the Palestine FA, said neither the Israeli occupation nor the rain and wind would stop the game

I've never been issued a "sports journalist" press ID - certainly not for an Olympic event. So, like the Palestinians, first chances are always interesting and exciting.

Our cameraman in Ramallah told me as we had tea that the new football stadium in Ramallah is "like leaving Palestine".

He filmed in the stadium for the first time on Tuesday, and, for someone who has filmed across this dangerous territory for years, his attitude of an awe-struck seasoned cameraman is striking.

With the new ID for the next 24 hours, I figured it was a duty to provide both a pre-game report and a post-game report as "Palestine" looks to make it to the 2012 Olympics in London.

Of course this match [the first competitive game to be played on "Palestinian" soil in more than 50 years] is overwhelmed with politics and the story of the continued daily struggle of the Palestinian people.

So much so, a debate broke out in our office: is the game technically being played in Jerusalem, or the West Bank?

The lines so grey, because it is to be played in East Jerusalem, many will struggle with how to avoid politics in covering a football match surrounded with geography that is itself political.

No banners

Driving in from Jerusalem the morning of the game, there is nothing to symbolise Wednesday's match-up against the Thailand national team, no big banners or signs.

Even if there were, the weather, which is becoming a large part of this story, would have blown them away in the wind.
The first portraits on the separation wall are still those of Palestinian heroes: Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti, the latter still in an Israeli prison, "convicted of murderous acts" during the second Intifada.

Of course, Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the security forces, and a force in of himself during times of conflict [he used to work shoulder to shoulder with some of Israel's greatest enemies in the territories], is now the chairman of the Palestine Football Association.

He may enjoy this job more than his old one: something we intend to ask him tonight.

He parlayed the weather into politics, saying neither the occupation nor the rain and wind would stop the game.

While neither the weather nor politics will stop Palestinians from seeing their first home game in a generation [and like anywhere else, football is the global dream] the Palestinian squad seems outmatched on paper by Thailand.

And with Thailand in the lead 1-0 from its first of two matches, the Palestinian squad must win by two goals to advance through this qualification round.

While the coach from Thailand is commenting on the weather, telling the media it will not affect his team's performance, the Palestinian coach, who is from Tunisia, says politics and the disadvantage of obeying Israeli travel rules will not affect his team.

And in the end the team from Thailand came out on top. Winning in penalty kicks – putting a damper on the hopes of a Palestinian society looking to play football in the London Olympics.

Kids with their face painted green, black and red: the colours of a Palestinian flag finally coming into international view.

The smiles on their faces tell the story of a game played – not a game lost.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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