An emotional Palestinian team will play Australia on Tuesday at the neutral venue of Kuwait after its World Cup qualifier was moved from the West Bank due to continuing conflict in the region.
Authorities in Kuwait are expecting a big crowd at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium with passionate support for the Palestinians, a team that has never appeared at the World Cup.
“We’re very sympathetic for everyone with what’s going on,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said of the Gaza conflict. “But again, it’s a game of football and that brings a lot of joy to everybody.”
Australia can take a big step towards the final round of qualification for soccer's 2026 World Cup if it defeats the Palestinians. After beating Bangladesh 7-0 in the opening game, the Socceroos would take control of Group I with another victory against a Palestinian team that drew 0-0 against Lebanon.
Palestinian coach Makram Daboub has been unable to call all his usual squad as three of his players were unable to get out of Gaza to report for a training camp in Jordan. Those that have made it are, the Tunisian said, struggling to focus.
“The players are in the hotel or on the bus most of the time following the news on their phones and communicating with their families,” Daboub said. “They are in a constant state of anxiety with the continued aggression and war in Palestine.”
Despite the concerns, Daboub was happy with the performance against Lebanon. “We should have won the game but it is a good point for us. We know that Australia is a strong team and we need to focus on that as best we can.”
South Korea has a much shorter journey to take on rival China in Shenzhen. Both teams won opening games in Group C with South Korea, aiming for an 11th successive World Cup appearance, beating Singapore 5-0 and China, going for a second, winning 2-1 in Thailand.
Coach Aleksandar Jankovic is expecting a tough test against South Korea, a team that China has only defeated twice in 36 past meetings. “We will be facing a world-class team. South Korea is a top team, not only in terms of Asian football, but in terms of world football, in terms of individual quality, team stability and confidence,” the Serbian said.
There were concerns over Son Heung-min who appeared to be injured late in the win over Singapore but the Tottenham Hotspur star played until the end.
“Everyone plays with some bumps and bruises,” Son, the Korean captain, said. “Playing for the national team is a tremendous honor that I’ve always dreamed about. And we have to create our own path to the World Cup. I can’t just give up just because I am hurt.”
Japan travels to Saudi Arabia to meet Syria after defeating Myanmar 5-0 for a seventh successive win that starts the campaign to reach an eighth successive World Cup. Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu still wants his team, without injured English Premier League star Kaoru Mitoma, to be more clinical.
“We have to be able to create more opportunities and reduce the amount of times we find ourselves in difficulty,” Moriyasu said.
Elsewhere India is looking to follow its 1-0 win over Kuwait with a home win against Asian champion Qatar. Saudi Arabia travels to Jordan and Iran visits Uzbekistan.