A team made up of first names such as Edgardo, Luis, Roberto, etc would categorically relate to one from Latin or Central America. However, it would come as a shock for those who follow Arab football. These names are part of a growing trend that is turning out to be what we know and see as the Palestinian national team.
Does this mean that Palestine is following a naturalization policy in the likes of Bahrain or Qatar? No way, how can they? The team does not even have the financial capability to buy a good supply of high-energy drinks for their matches.So how is this possible?
Before getting into how, let’s look at a brief history of people in Palestine?
The Crimean war (in 1850’s), followed by WWI and the subsequently the 1948 Palestinian War, led to mass Diaspora of Palestinian families to the beautiful South American country of Chile. The community boasts of estimates of 350 – 500 K, which makes it the largest Palestinian community outside Palestine. Their presence is undeniably noticed in the country’s football environment as well. A prestigious club in the Chilean first division, which goes by the name of Club Deportivo Palestino, based in Santiago gives you an idea of how the Palestinians have integrated into the community. Attending their games, one will notice a Palestinian feel to the atmosphere with the crowd waving the Palestinian flag and wearing Keffiyeh’s (traditional Arab head dress).
Now getting back into how this affected the Palestinian national team.
It all started with Nicola Shahwan, who was hired by the PFA in 2002 to take over the reigns of the national team. Nicola, himself is a descendant of Palestinian immigrants, who settled in Santiago, Chile initiated the rather strange influx of Chileans to the national team. This was at first ridiculed by the PFA, however after displaying the resemblance of Hispanics to the nation, the PFA agreed. The rule set up by FIFA which allowed individuals to represent the country of their grandfathers, only made it easier in convincing the PFA to take in these players.
This is the reason; we see the likes of Roberto Bishara, Edgardo Abdala, and Fransico Atura representing Palestine at an international level.
However, as it stands, the only barrier between the imports and local based players is that of language. And once this barrier is broken, the vigorous combination of the two factions, brought together with one fact in common, the love to represent their nation on the pitch (be it by birth or by ancestry), will be the driving force in fortifying their presence felt in the world of football.
Watching their first game on home soil against Jordan proved the importance to the uplift of the national team. The South Americans had brought with them their technical understanding and elegance towards the game while the local based brought in the gung-ho physical style of play.