|The road to Russia/UAE begins on June 11.|
Palestine were left with a relatively manageable group after the dust settled in Kuala Lumpur immediately following the 2018 World Cup Qualifying draw. Palestine were the first team out of Pot 3 which came to the relief of many after seeing the likes of 2010 World Cup Finalist Korea DPR drawn against underrated Yemen in Group H.
Joining Palestine in Group A are UAE, Saudi Arabia, Timor Leste, and Malaysia.
More after the jump...
Overall, Palestine should be content with the draw. Before proceedings I had marked the UAE and Timor Leste as two desirable opponents given their relative strength as compared to other teams in their pots.
Palestine have only lost once to UAE, a 2012 friendly played with little preparation ended 3-0 to the hosts. That said, Palestine did draw UAE 1-1 in October 2009 and recorded a 0-0 draw in 2006. Their sole win came during an historic run at the 1999 Pan Arab Games. Palestine defeated UAE 1-0 en route to a third place finish.
Palestine have never faced Timor Leste who are the youngest FIFA affiliated nation in the AFC (admitted in 2005).
While Malaysia might be one of the stronger Pot 5 teams on paper. Palestine will be boosted by their favorable record against them (2W 0D 1L). Palestine comfortably beat Malaysia 2-0 in a March 2013 friendly. The Harimau Malaya haven't kept a clean sheet in 12 matches and their last friendly saw them suffer a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Oman.
Saudi Arabia might have a grandiose reputation with four World Cup appearances to their name they have not impressed on the continental stage since their AFC Asian Cup final appearance in 2007. Over the last two Asian Cups, Saudi Arabia have won once- against Challenge Cup entrants Korea DPR. At the last time of asking, Saudi Arabia were edged out by Oman for a place in the Third Round of World Cup qualifying.
With the constant turmoil Saudi Football tends to find itself in Palestine could spring a surprise.
Overall Record vs. Group A Opponents: (3W 3D 2L)
Due to Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinians the team will need to travel to Amman and fly from there to a their final destination.
As the PFA is strapped for cash the team will fly commercial flights. Fortunately, the trips will not be too arduous.
Palestine will even be able to fly direct on a Royal Jordanian flight to Kuala Lumpur (stopping in Bangkok) following their opener against Saudi Arabia on the 11th of June.
The one trip that will prove challenging is the October date with Timor Leste. Palestine will most likely have to fly to Dubai and then stop in Singapore before finally reaching the remote (albeit breathtaking) Southeast Asian nation. To make matters worse they'll have to travel back five days later to face Saudi Arabia away.
Many commentators have brought up the unique situation of Saudi Arabia and UAE having to pass Israeli border control to enter Palestine. While both countries do not formally recognize Israel, relations have been flourishing behind closed doors. I do not expect a withdrawal in protest of the occupation from either nation.
Malaysia also doesn't recognize Israel and seems a little more principled in its stand. After all, it issues passports like this one on the left. In any case, three out of four home games for Palestine's could throw up logistical issues for the visitors.
As we have seen during the AFC Cup and previous World Cup qualifiers no player is safe from Israeli border control and anyone can be refused entry for no reason at all.
For Palestine to have any chance at progressing they will have to take care of business at home. Palestine have never lost a home game and the performance of Taraji Wadi Al-Nes bears out that there is a home field advantage that could boost Al-Fid'ai's chances of springing an upset or two. The weaker teams in the group will also have to be vanquished which will be no easy task. Malaysia boasts great home support and Timor Leste is an unfamiliar and ever evolving opponent. If Palestine can take maximum points off these two teams it could act as a spring board to an unlikely Third Round appearance.
Optimism should be tempered as the PFA have yet to announce who will manage the team (with 57 days to go until the first game, as of the time of writing).
June 11th, 2015 vs. Saudi Arabia
June 16th, 2015 @ Malaysia
September 3rd, 2015 BYE
September 8th, 2015 vs. UAE
October 8th, 2015 @ Timor Leste
October 13th, 2015 @ Saudi Arabia
November 12th, 2015 vs. Malaysia
November 17th, 2015 BYE
March 24th, 2015 @ UAE
March 28th, 2015 vs. Timor Leste