There were always signs that Palestine’s beach Soccer Team was capable of competing at the Asian level but few would have expected Al-Fida’i to be where they are now.
For a brief period at the beginning of the decade Palestine competed at beach competitions and do quite well. At the 2012 Asian Beach Games the team won bronze, one year later they managed a sixth place finish at their only AFC Beach Soccer Championship to date.
Since then, the team fell victim to administrative indifference and the Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. The team was prevented from participating in the 2017 edition after failing to secure the necessary exit permits from Israeli authorities.
All of which makes their achievements over the past 10 days all the more admirable. Drawn in a group with hosts Thailand, Afghanistan, and Malaysia thr Palestinians reeled off three straight wins coming back from early deficits in each of them. A last gasp winner in a 3-2 victory over Afghanistan delivered early passage to the. quarterfinals. Palestine rested and rotated its team in their 6-5 win against Malaysia which left them rested for a crunch quarterfinal against neighbors Lebanon.
Palestine showcased grit and we’re backed up by the best goalkeeper at the tournament- Fadi Jaber.
Palestine trailed thrice against their northern neighbors and all three times they clawed back an equalizer. Mahmoud Al-Nairab gave Palestine their first and only lead of the night by converting a spot kick with 1:25 left. Al-Fida’i saw out the rest of the game to claim a famous 4-3 victory.
The Palestinians struggled against defending champions Japan in yesterday’s semifinal. Missing a penalty and playing with a numerical disadvantage for nearly half the match. Despite the 6-0 loss, Palestine still have a shot at World Cup qualification. Victory over Oman in the third place playoff would deliver unlikely but well deserved glory.
The Cinderella story is all the more impressive when you consider the nature of the team. All the players hail from the Gaza Strip and none actually specialize in the sport of Beach Soccer.
In fact the teams main stars might be familiar to those who follow football in the Strip. Fadi Jaber, Maisara Al-Bawab, Mahmoud Al-Nairab, and Mohammed Al-Sdoodi were all regarded as the next wunderkinds of Palestinian football a decade ago.
Fate conspired to keep the four in the Gaza Strip and with three of them turning 30 this year; their chances at playing for the national team were dwindling. Now a different type of football might just send them to a World Cup.