This week, Palestine’s allocation at the AFC Cup is set to increase to 1.5 teams for the first time since 2016. The change in their coefficient ranking follows a string of successful campaigns in Asia’s second tier competition.
As the better ranked nation participating in the playoff, Shabab Al-Amari- last year’s WBPL runner up had won the rights to host Kuwaiti champions Al-Kuwait SC.
Unlike the group stage, which is now being held in centralized venues throughout the continent for the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup, Shabab Al-Am’ari’s hosting rights remained intact.
Kuwait which does not recognize Israel and has one of the most steadfast commitments against normalization has never sent a team to play in Palestine. There was an announcement earlier this year of a friendly to be played in Al-Ram between Palestine and Kuwait’s national teams but those discussions never fully materialized.
Kuwait SC’s President, Khaled Al-Ghanem, had told ATV that “We have not received any response from the AFC in regards to our request to move the match from Palestine, we are currently leaning towards withdrawing from the competition.”
That statement which was made on Saturday was followed by a swift reversal on Sunday morning when multiple outlets reported that the match would not only be moved, but be held in Kuwait.
Kooora.com reported today that the key to securing the arrangement was the “effort put in by [Kuwaiti FA President Ahmed] El-Youssef whose connections to the Palestine Football Association made it easier to gain the acceptance of the [Palestine] FA and club.”
This marks a massive departure for PFA President Jibril Rajoub who had said multiple times that he would not give up Palestine’s right to host matches. There are plenty of instances of Rajoub saying “we will not give up our right to host matches”- he said in 2019, 2016, 2015, 2013, and 2011. As mentioned earlier, he also jumped the gun on announcing a friendly involving Kuwait’s national team in Palestine- boasting about his ability to secure another friendly (there have only been three in Rajoub’s 13 years at the helm) on home soil.
While this isn’t the first time Palestinian clubs have been forced to move their home matches due to political considerations. It does mark the first time Palestine willingly acquiesces to that request- which was not the case with Ahli Al-Khaleel, Shabab Al-Dhahrieh, and Hilal Al-Quds in 2016, 2019, and 2020.
The request to move Shabab Al-Am’ari’s home match has been filed to the Asian Football Confederation, who will decide whether or not to accept it.