|Abdallah Jaber in Palestine's first encounter vs. Saudi Arabia|
For those not familiar with the series of events- there had been talk of Saudi Arabia refusing to travel to Palestine ever since the group was drawn back in April.
After some discussion, it seemed that all was set in place for Palestine to host Saudi Arabia on the opening match day of qualifying. In a very strange set of circumstances, the two FAs decided to switch the dates of their home matches less than a week before the game was set to kickoff.
Saudi Arabia ended up winning that match 3-2 thanks to a last gasp goal by Mohammad Al-Sahlawi.
Palestine then gave themselves a fighting chance at progression from the group with a 6-0 thumping of Malaysia, followed by a gritty goalless draw at home to the United Arab Emirates.
More after the jump....
Once again, attention shifted to the Saudi Football Federation who convened with FIFA ExCo member Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan and their Palestinian counterparts in Amman. In those meetings Palestine FA President, Jibril Rajoub proposed:
- Flying the Saudi Arabian team in by helicopter arranged by the Jordanian government.
- Playing the match in Gaza by arranging entry permits for both teams from the Egyptian government.
Saudi Arabia's football chief, Ahmed Eid, refused both measures and the sides agreed to have FIFA arbitrate the issue. The precondition was that both sides would agree to whatever measure FIFA decided to take.
Initially a committee headed by Michel Platini had ordered the game to be played on neutral ground. According, to PFA President Jibril Rajoub, the decision to invalidate the order was due to the fact that Michel Platini wasn't aware that such a communique was sent. With all sides at an impasse and with the scheduled match fast approaching, FIFA decided to delay the game.
The decision to delay the game would be one of Sepp Blatter's last as FIFA President.
Yesterday, FIFA announced that Palestine would indeed host Saudi Arabia with the game scheduled for November 5th at the Faisal Al-Husseini Memorial Stadium.
Should Saudi Arabia refuse to play the match, they would at best be slapped with a 3-0 administrative loss. At worst, their membership in FIFA could be suspended and as a result would be forced out of World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying for the 2018/19 cycle.
This would not be the first administrative result doled out in Group A. Last month, Malaysia's fans rioted after their team threw away a 1-0 lead late in their game against Saudi Arabia. The 1-2 result was eventually annotated as a 0-3 win for the Saudis.
Palestine themselves are looking for their 1-1 result against Timor Leste to be invalidated after it became clear that the Timorean team fielded seven Brazilians with no ostensible connection to the country.
Should FIFA rule in favor of Palestine- Timor Leste could see all their results reversed leaving them with zero as opposed to two points in Group A. The most mysterious team in Asia is embroiled in more controversy as they seem to have agreed to give up their home game vs. Saudi Arabia with an eye on reducing costs and travel time. No word yet on the final venue.