AMMAN: The Saudi national football team received a warm welcome in Ramallah two days before an important World Cup qualifying match against Palestine.
Arriving in a bus from Jordan to a huge sign saying “you have lit up Palestine,” the visitors headed to the headquarters of the Palestinian presidency in Ramallah.
President Mahmoud Abbas received the Saudis, telling them: “You have honored Palestine with your presence.”
After the meeting, the Saudi team was welcomed at the Millennium Hotel in downtown Ramallah.
“A dabkeh band welcomed them, and they were greeted by the mayors of the cities of Ramallah, Al-Bireh and Beitunia,” Susan Shalabi, deputy president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), told Arab News.
The Saudi team members were each given a Palestinian keffiyeh (headdress) and a rose. Shalabi said the PFA had been working nonstop to ensure that they felt welcomed.
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“From the moment the Palestinian side received our visitors from the Jordanian side until they leave, we’re committed to ensuring that they’re at ease and can properly prepare for the football match,” she added.
“We’re very excited about the first- ever visit of a leading Arab national football team. This visit makes us feel that we’re not alone.” Shalabi expressed hope that this will pave the way for other teams from the Arab world.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Saudi team will have two training sessions, a closed technical meeting, and a joint press conference with the Palestinian team.
After the game, the Saudi team will have a press conference followed by a state dinner at the presidential headquarters.
The visiting team was visibly surprised by the huge turnout and welcome. There were street signs, the local Maan TV had a welcome sign on-air, and people waved to the team as its bus drove through Ramallah.
On his Facebook page, PFA President Jibril Rajoub posted a picture of Abbas and King Salman with the Palestinian and Saudi flags. Beneath the image were the words: “We welcome our Saudi brothers to Palestine.”
Ahmad Deek, political affairs adviser of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, told Arab News that the Saudi team’s visit reflects a courageous move by the friendly Saudi family.
“It is a courageous decision that reflects a noble brotherly stand with our people and a true stand of solidarity against the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people.”
The two national teams will play each other at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium as part of the double qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 Asia Cup.