Palestine hope World Cup journey can 'bring a little happiness to our people'

Manager Makram Daboub tells The National about the challenges ahead as the squad heads to Kuwait to face Australia in their second group match

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Palestine manager Makram Daboub admitted he has no idea what is next for his team after opening their 2026 World Cup second-round qualifying campaign amid the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.

Entering Thursday's game against Lebanon in Sharjah, the war was inevitably at the front of the players' minds, yet Palestine still managed to earn a goalless draw and get a point on the board in Group I. That was after their preparations were severely disrupted as players attempted to gather in Jordan for a short training camp.

The Palestine squad will soon head to Kuwait for their second group match against Australia on Tuesday, but Daboub revealed to The National that little has been arranged, with the Palestine football federation trying to make arrangements in extremely challenging circumstances.

“I am really confused and I don’t know what to do," Daboub said. "Right now, I have no idea where we are heading and what plans we have before our next match.

“Perhaps, we’ll go into a camp but when and where, I wouldn’t know. Our federation will try to organise the best possible arrangements but that’s going to be a far cry from the realities of the conflict in Gaza."

The Israeli invasion of Gaza has killed 11,470 people, including 4,707 children and 3,155 women, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Thursday. Israel began bombarding the Palestinian enclave after Hamas militants attacked Israeli settlements on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and abducting another 240.

With the constant threat of bombs and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Daboub said it has been impossible for his players to focus on football, and he hopes positive results can provide some brief moments of joy.

“Our players are not in the right frame of mind no matter how hard we may try to get their focus on the games. It’s natural. They are worried about their families, relatives, and friends. That’s the truth," he said.

“Obviously, we have to play the qualifiers. We’ll do our best and hope for some good results, which I believe can bring a little happiness to our people.”

Speaking about his team, Daboub said: “I have only praise and pride for our players because I know what they are all going through.

“They put up a great performance under very trying conditions. We created a few chances and went close to breaking the deadlock, particularly in the second half. But overall, we are satisfied with the result.”

Lebanon manager Nikola Jurcevic said he was pleased with his team's effort, particularly given the circumstances surrounding the match.

“I have been a long-time player and coach but never experienced such emotions in a football match,” the Croatian said.

“I don’t want to talk much about another team but we wanted to concentrate on our own game and get a good result. I cannot say if had an effect on our players or performance but I know they gave everything for a result.”

The top two teams in each group will advance to the next round in the expanded 48-team 2026 World Cup, where Asia will have eight guaranteed spots plus a possible ninth through an intercontinental playoff.

Updated: November 17, 2023, 9:33 AM