Palestine’s chances at continuing their World Cup qualifying campaign past June 15th are remote but their odds increased considerably following the unexpected withdrawal of North Korea.
Palestine were originally slated to play Singapore in March but a change at the 11th hour redrew the scheduling calendar. Saudi Arabia were one of the few teams who seemed set to play at least one of their qualifying matches as originally scheduled. Their match in Singapore on March 30th was chalked off but Yemen were still willing to travel to Riyadh in the midst of the pandemic. Until they weren’t.
Palestine were willing to step into the scheduling void and help Saudi Arabia avoid a murderous run of four games in 12 days in June. Football Palestine reached out to a member of the coaching staff in the aftermath of the disastrous 5-0 defeat and this is what he had to say:
“We decided in tandem with Saudi Arabia to reschedule the match for March because we wanted to ease the pressure of matches that we would have to play in June. Originally we would have had to play on June 3rd, June 7th, and June 15th. We reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to play the game on March 30th. That way we could prepare well for this game and then focus on the June matches…. Especially since we are eliminated from any chance to qualify for Round 3 of World Cup qualification.”
The one problem with that statement is that Palestine was not and still is not eliminated from contention. Furthermore, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic barred Oday Dabbagh and several other key players from travelling.
In the aftermath of the withdrawal of North Korea has led the AFC to make the decision to declare all of the qualifiers contested by North Korea as null and void. That means, that just like in 2018 World Cup qualifying results against the last placed team will not be considered in the ranking of best runner ups.
That would have meant that had Palestine found a way to get into second place in the group on 11 or 13 points they would have only had three points knocked off their total (as opposed to six for most other runner-ups).
The calculus in March was one that depended on several other results going Palestine’s way in addition to winning out. Furthermore, it was thought that only topping the group would guarantee Palestine- or any other team in Group D- a shot at continuing on the road to Qatar.
This is no longer the case, the runner up will have a pretty decent shot given the decision to strike results against last placed teams in the runners-up ranking.
All the Palestine Football Association had to do to help the national team was wait. They couldn’t even do that properly and will be left ruing their chances should the condensed qualifying window in June throw up some more surprises.