Emotionally charged Palestine determined to make winning start in World Cup qualifying

Preparations for Group I match against Lebanon severely hampered by ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict

We fight through sports, says Palestinian footballer Mohammed Rashid

We fight through sports, says Palestinian footballer Mohammed Rashid
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Palestine preparations for their opening match of second round World Cup qualifying in Asia have been severely hit by the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, an official said.

Palestine take on Lebanon in Sharjah with the players' thoughts understandably elsewhere as they anxiously wait for news of loved ones back home.

Some members of the squad were forced to move to neighbouring Jordan to maintain basic fitness before moving to Sharjah to begin preparations for the Group I match five days ago.

“Everything changed after October 7 with the start of the conflict in Gaza,” Ahmed Rajoub, the Palestine Football Association media manager said at a pre-match conference.

“All sporting activities stopped completely in Palestine, and the football team was forced to move to Jordan to maintain the minimum level of fitness of its players before the start of the qualifiers.

“The first real training for the national team, which brought together a mix of local players and professionals plying their trade in international leagues, took place on Monday in Sharjah four days ago.

“We had some training sessions in Jordan and that was limited to local players supported by members of the Olympic team, and in the absence of Gazan players, this was not enough to prepare for an ideal match in the qualifiers.”

Rajoub said morale within the camp has been severely affected by the suffering of their families and loved ones in Gaza.

As Israel intensifies its ground assault on the tiny enclave and with telecommunications cut, Rajoub said players' minds were focused on keeping up with events back home.

“We just can’t get the players focused on the game when people are killed and injured every day since the conflict started,” he said.

“The players don’t talk about football, but about the war, and when they are in the room or the bus, they rush to follow the current events via their mobile phones to check on their families, relatives, and friends.

“But we want to say, despite all these issues and this difficult period, the players definitely want to win, no matter how hard it may be.”

More than 11,000 people, including about 4,600 children, have been killed in Israel's relentless bombardment of Gaza and the subsequent ground offensive, in which Israeli troops and tanks rolled through the heart of Gaza city.

More than 1,200 people in Israel were reported dead, most of them in the Hamas attack on October 7, and about 240 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by Hamas militants.

Lebanon begin their campaign under Nikola Jurcevic, who replaced Aleksandar Ilic in October, and the coach said he expects an emotional game.

“This is a tough game with emotions set to run high in both camps, but we still need to go out there and play,” he said.

“We have to deal with injuries, but we’ll not make that an excuse not to win. This game is very important for us to keep our hopes alive in a group that also include Australia and Bangladesh.”

Updated: November 16, 2023, 6:23 AM