Saudi Arabia held to goalless draw by Palestine in landmark West Bank World Cup qualifier

Saudi Arabia were held to a goalless draw by Palestine in Al-Ram on Tuesday in their historic 2022 World Cup qualifying clash in the West Bank. (Saudi Football Federation/AFC)
Updated 15 October 2019

Saudi Arabia held to goalless draw by Palestine in landmark West Bank World Cup qualifier

  • Game was first time Green Falcons had played in occupied territory
  • 15,000 football fans packed into Faisal Husseini Stadium

AMMAN: A long-awaited World Cup and Asia Cup qualifier between Saudi Arabia and Palestine ended in a 0-0 draw, keeping qualifying hopes alive for both teams.

The 72nd-ranked Saudi team keeps their second place in Group D with five points, while the 99th-ranked Palestinians are in third place with four points. Uzbekistan lead the group with six points.

Susan Shalabi, who is vice president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), said both teams were winners.

“We are grateful to our Saudi brothers for respecting our desire to play our home game at home, in Palestine, and we hope we were able to provide them with all they needed to be comfortable and game-ready,” she told Arab News.

“The biggest problem facing the PFA was the huge crowds wanting to watch the game,” she added.

“Palestinians from all walks of life, including children, were clamoring to attend this epic game and we did our best to accommodate as many as possible despite the fact that the stadium is not meant for such large crowds.”

A record crowd of 15,000 attended the match at Faisal Husseini Stadium, which is in a town north of Jerusalem.

“We had to accommodate so many people, many who wanted to watch the game even from the windows of the dressing rooms and the administrative offices,” she said.

Saudi and Palestinian flags were waved from the stands as both sides battled it out for 90 minutes without scoring despite many opportunities.

The PFA’s president, Jibril Rajoub, said the game was a “national carnival” and that he was happy it went as planned.

“The draw reflected the hard work of both teams who had a strong performance on the field. I am happy that our Saudi brothers came and left with their heads up high,” he told Arab News.

But for Qadri Hassan, who is head of the Jordanian Sports Writers Association, the real winner was the Palestinian cause.

“The Saudis showed patriotism by agreeing to respect Palestine’s desire to have their home game played at home, and were rewarded by an unprecedented wave of public support that went beyond Palestine to the entire Arab world,” he told Arab News. “After this visit, no team will refuse to play a Palestinian home game in Palestine.”

The veteran sportswriter and commentator said the time had come for FIFA and the Arab world to join forces in helping to build a much bigger stadium.

“Faisal Husseini Stadium is not built for such major games. Palestine needs an Olympic stadium with natural grass that can seat tens of thousands of spectators.”

Koreas in goalless draw North and South Korea played out a surreal 0-0 draw in front of an empty stadium and with no TV coverage as Australia smashed seven past Taiwan in Asian World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

On a busy night of qualifiers for Qatar 2022, Marcello Lippi’s China were also frustrated as they were held to a scoreless draw away to the Philippines.

But there was more action elsewhere as Adam Taggart, Jackson Irvine and Harry Souttar scored two apiece in Australia’s 7-1 rout of Taiwan. In other matches,  Japan’s Takumi Minamino scored twice and Takuma Asano got the other as the Samurai Blue defeated Tajikistan 3-0 in Dushanbe.

Iraq’s 4-0 thrashing of Cambodia was highlighted by Amjad Attwan’s belter which flew 25 yards and into the top corner past goalkeeper Keo Soksela.

Southeast Asian champions Vietnam humbled Indonesia 3-1 away and Uzbekistan beat Singapore by the same scoreline, thanks to Eldor Shomurodov’s second half double. And Ekanit Panya’s far-post finish secured a 2-1 win for Thailand over the UAE as they kept pace with Vietnam at the top of Group G.


Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

Updated 13 November 2019

Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

  • Austrian fifth seed took fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph

LONDON: Dominic Thiem produced a scintillating display of attacking tennis to beat Novak Djokovic and qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals on Tuesday, leaving the Serbian facing a shootout against Roger Federer.

In the standout match so far at London’s O2 Arena, the Austrian fifth seed took the fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)

Earlier, Federer put himself back in the mix at the end-of-season event with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 win against Italian debutant Matteo Berrettini in their round-robin clash.

Federer and Djokovic will face off on Thursday in a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon final to determine who else will progress from Group Bjorn Borg.

Thiem was forced to play high-stakes tennis against the 16-time Grand Slam winner, taking the breath away with some of his inside-out forehands and single-handed backhands

Forced to play at his limit, he hit 50 winners compared with Djokovic’s tally of 27 but also racked up 44 unforced errors.

“This was really one of these special matches, what I’ve practiced all my life for, all my childhood for,” Thiem said.

“Really epic one in an amazing atmosphere, beating a legend of our game. And also I’ve qualified for the semifinals, which is the best.

“Coming back from 1-4 (down in the deciding tie-break) was a little bit of luck, but it was an unbelievable match and one I’ll never forget. Novak is the best player in the world and I had to do something special.”

In a captivating first set the players swapped a break apiece but Djokovic, a five-time ATP Finals champion, edged the tie-break.

Undaunted, Thiem broke his opponent at the first opportunity in the second set and, with Djokovic’s error count climbing, went on to level the match.

Thiem also drew first blood in the decider but cracked in the sixth game as Djokovic levelled the match and appeared to have engineered a switch in momentum.

The Austrian successfully challenged at 30-30 in the 10th game after his forehand was ruled out, preventing a match point for Djokovic and he toughed it out to level at 5-5.

He then broke Djokovic to love to earn a chance to serve for the match but stumbled and the decider went to a tie-break.

Still the drama was not finished. Thiem slipped to 4-1 down but battled back to win it on his second match point when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net.

Third seed Federer had put himself under the cosh by losing his opening round-robin match to Thiem. The six-time champion was not at his fluent best on Tuesday but ultimately had too much for his Italian opponent.

The Swiss upped his game to take the first set tie-break comfortably and broke immediately at the start of the second set to leave the big-serving Berrettini with too much to do.

Federer was asked after his win against Berrettini whether his defeat to Djokovic at Wimbledon had left emotional or mental scars.

“We’ll find out, but I think it’s all flushed away from my side,” said the Swiss.

“A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”

Djokovic is hunting a sixth ATP Finals title to pull level with Federer’s record and is also seeking to pip Rafael Nadal to the year-end number one ranking.

On Monday, top seed Nadal lost his opener in Group Andre Agassi to defending champion Alexander Zverev while Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Daniil Medvedev.