Most soccer fans would associate given names such as Edgardo and Roberto as Latino.
But if you follow soccer in the Middle East, specifically in the Palestinian territories, you might want to reassess that association. The names are part of a trend that is having an impact on Palestine’s national team.
Today there are players whose relationship to the countries they play in is not all that simple. They earn a living in those countries, nothing more. The most notable examples include the Qatari striker of Uruguayan decent — Sebastián Soria and the former Qatari-Brazilian striker, Emerson Sheik (a k a Márcio Passos de Albuquerque), now at Corinthians back home in South America.
So where does Palestine’s national team fit in? First, a little history.
Conflicts such as the Crimean war (in 1850’s), World War II and the war that led to the establishment of Israel resulted in the move of many families outside what had been known as historic Palestine. Some remained in other countries in the Middle East, some moved to Europe and some to the Americas, both North and South, to join relatives who had left years earlier.
For some reason, between 350,000 and 500,000 settled in Chile in South America, comprising the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East. In soccer terms, the refugees found a club of their own, Club Deportivo Palestino, which was actually founded in the capital city of Santiago in 1920 by immigrants from the Middle East. For fans at the games, the connection includes waving the Palestinian flags and wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Arab headdress.
But how has that devotion to a club team translated to a land 8,000 miles away?
It started with Nicola Shahwan, who was hired in 2002 to take over as the coach of the national team. Shahwan is a descendant of Palestinian immigrants living in Chile. He brought with him a group of Chileans, an act which was initially ridiculed by the Palestine’s federation, but after showing that the players were also of Palestinian descent they were accepted into the team. (A FIFA rule also facilitated their inclusion in the Palestine team.)
Enter Roberto Bishara, Edgardo Abdala, Hernán Madrid and Fransico Atura representing Palestine at an international level. Today, Chileans by birth in Palestine’s team include, Alexis Patricio Norambuena Ruz and Roberto Kettlun.
Watching their first game on home soil against Jordan in October 2008 demonstrated the rejuvenated vigor. The South Americans took with them technical understanding and elegance while the locally based players contributed a physical style of play.
Palestine’s qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil started positively with victories against Afghanistan in the first round.The only foreigner in that team was Roberto Aduy. But the faint hopes of qualifying were extinguished in a loss over two legs to Thailand.
Right now, the only barrier among the players appears to be a failure to communicate verbally, though the game is the common language. Palestine, now ranked No. 149 by FIFA, up two spots from September, shows a slow improvement.