In the midst of regional violence and war, Tunisian manager Makram Daboub is struggling to field his Palestinian Men’s National Soccer Team.
It has proved difficult for Daboub to add certain players, such as Ibrahim Abuimeir, Khaled Al-Nabris, and Ahmed Al-Kayed to his roster, given the threat of daily violence experienced in the lives of professional soccer players in Gaza.
“So far they are fine,” Coach Daboub told the Associated Press. “Many of their relatives have died, however, as a result of the bombing.”
With so many of the players’ families in danger, Daboub acknowledges the difficulty of focusing on qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.
“With the death and destruction in Gaza, the players are in a difficult psychological state,” Daboub reflected.
Qualifying for the 2026 World Cup would be a monumental achievement for Palestinian players and the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) has yet to get very close to reaching the finals of the Asian Football Confederation’s qualifying game, which grants the finalists an automatic qualification into the World Cup.
The Palestinian Soccer Team reached its highest FIFA ranking in 2018 at place 73, appeared in the 2015 and 2019 Asian Cups, and recently qualified for the 2023 continental tournament in Qatar, occurring from June 16 to July 16, 2023.
This World Cup qualifying cycle for the 2026 tournament provides the team with increased hope. Asia’s automatic qualification allocation number has increased from four places to eight, so to reach this World Cup dream, the Palestinian team needs to finish in the top two places in a group containing Australia—the country projected to earn the first slot, as well as Lebanon and Bangladesh. Adding to this increased sense of optimism are Palestine’s international rankings, which project them eight places above Lebanon, which ranks 104th currently, and 87 places above Bangladesh.
“There is no match that you can win in advance, but we have a good chance of reaching the next round of the World Cup qualifiers,” spoke Daboub about his hope surrounding the World Cup qualifying games.
Daboub continued to emphasize soccer’s important unifying force for the Palestinian people.
“Football is the most popular game in the world,” said Daboub. “It brings people together. We aspire to achieve good results and qualify to show the Palestinian identity and that this is a people who deserve life, love, and peace.”
Palestine is striving to “do the same thing Morocco did in the World Cup,” claims Daboub. Morocco shocked the world, appearing in round sixteen of the 2022 World Cup after upsetting a strong Belgian side 2-0.
Daboub’s hopeful World Cup outlook highlights not only the possibility of Palestine’s appearance in the 2026 World Cup, but also the increased presence of Middle East and North African teams striving to dismantle the facade of a European-dominated soccer realm.
“This is our way as Palestinians to get the Palestinian message and the name of Palestine worldwide through football and through sport,” Firas Abu Hilal, the Secretary of the PFA, told sports journalists.
Hilal regards the importance of a Palestinian presence in the world of sports as a form of conscious activism. By simply being alive and playing soccer, these players are representing oppressed people strongly and proudly in the wake of massive destruction and crisis.