New page in history: This week in Middle East football

New page in history: This week in Middle East football
For the first time in football history, Palestine will beat Israel in the FIFA rankings, as the country sees a resurgence in confidence on the pitch.
5 min read
22 Nov, 2017
Palestine are enjoying a football renaissance [AFP]

The anticipated FIFA rankings will likely mark a historic moment for Middle East football, and particularly for Israel and Palestine.

After years of competing in UEFA - and not the AFC due to boycotts from many Asian nations - Israel is now facing severe consequences of underachieving.  

Palestine's national team - on the other hand - is tipped to achieve its highest ever ranking, conquering the 82nd spot. That's a great achievement, but what is interesting is that it would be the first time ever that the Palestinian team has toppled Israel, who are resigned to their worst ever FIFA ranking - 98th.  

These rankings don't exactly show the true abilities of each nation, but reflects their current form and achievements in international matches. Israel's horrific 2018 World Cup qualifications campaign has had a huge impact on the country's ranking, making them the third most 'worst movers' in the rankings.

They have dropped 16 spots - just a bit ahead of Chad and Laos - who have fallen 19 and 22 places respectively. At the same time, Palestine's tremendous 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualification campaigns have boosted the Fida'i to go up the table.

Together with Senegal - that will be ranked 23 - Luxembourg (83) and Chinese Taipei (135), the Palestinians will enjoy their best ever ranking since joining FIFA in 1998.

If that's not enough, Palestine is currently holding one of the world's best winning streaks in competitive games. While Germany and Spain won seven game each, Palestine is right behind them with six, along with Portugal.

While Germany and Spain won seven game each, Palestine is right behind them with six.

Of course, there is no reason to compare the level of opposition the teams have played against during the campaign, or the level of football, but one cannot neglect the progress the tiny football nation has achieved in recent years. 

Israel's nightmare ranking isn't just below Palestine, but also expanding north of the border: Lebanon will enjoy their best ranking in 18 years, likely 86th Syria, who already surpassed the Israelis, will continue to hold the 77th spot, while Iraq will be ranked 79th. Slowly, Israel (which was ranked 15th in the world in 2008) has lost its position to other emerging players in the football world, and from their own neighborhood.

Football arrived to Mandatory Palestine at the start of the 20th Century, with both Israel and Palestine making it their number one sport. At the start, the national team was made by Jewish, Arab and British players, but as soon as the conflict emerged the sides founded their own associations and teams, playing separately.

While Israel took an active part in Asian competitions until the end of the 1970s (winning the Asian Cup in 1964 and playing in the 1970 World Cup), many Arab and Muslim countries boycotted them due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel moved to the Oceania Confederation to compete against Australia and New Zealand and in 1992 joined UEFA - the European Association.

Since then they have been competing against some of the world's football giants, as Spain, Italy, France. Despite enjoying great facilities, access to UEFA's competitions, and high salaries in local league, Israeli football is facing one of its toughest hours.

In terms of natural talent Palestinian football offers a huge variety of players.

Palestine, meanwhile, was a mediocre side by professional means until not long ago. It has its huge progress in the past decade since Jibril Rajoub's major investment in the facilities and foundations of local football. After first participating in the Asian Cup in 2015, Palestine will play in the 2019 edition of the tournament in the UAE. 

Locally, the Palestinian league is still far behind Israel's in terms of sources, conditions and professional structure, but in terms of natural talent Palestinian football offers a huge variety of players.

Although the coming FIFA rankings don't necessarily mean Palestine is the stronger team it definitely highlight who's on the roll and who's not. 

The Asian Final

Fans from all over Saudi Arabia have gathered around King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh since Friday, to ensure they witness the Asian Champions League final first leg, between local al-Hilal and the Uruwa Reds.

The stadium was filled hours before kick-off with 69,000 passionate fans who produced an amazing atmosphere and choreography for the match. On the ground things were far from the fans' expectations.

Uruwa scored the lead goal six minutes into the match and the whole stadium was in a state of shock. Luckily for the Hilalyees, they had the Syrian superhero - Omar Khribin - one of the Asian Player of the Year nominees, who scored the equalizer before the break.

In the second-half the Saudi champions missed multiple chances, and also lost their number one striker, Carlos Eduardo to a thigh injury. Eduardo won't play the 2nd leg on Saturday, what put Ramon Diaz' side chances on the brinks.

A 1-1 draw was the final result, and now al-Hilal have 90 minutes left to fulfill the dream of millions in the Arab world, and win the Champions League. That would see them join al-Jazira Abu Dhabi and Wydad Casablanca as the third Arab team in the Club World Cup next month.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here