Al-Ram, West Bank, Jul 4 : The Palestinian team made the most of its rare homeground advantage Sunday, advancing to the second round of Asian World Cup qualifying after a 1-1 draw with Afghanistan gave them a 3-1 aggregate victory.
One of the few FIFA members which is not a U.N. recognized state, the Palestinians face Thailand in the next round.
Palestinian defender Hasam Wadi scored in the 11th minute, before Balal Arezou equalized in the 63rd for Afghanistan.
The Palestinian team defeated Afghanistan 2-0 in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier, played in Tajikistan because of the security situation in Afghanistan.
In other first-round qualifiers: Malaysia scraped through on away goals despite losing 3-2 in Taiwan; Laos advanced 8-6 on aggregate after scoring twice in extra time against Cambodia for a 6-2 home win; Vietnam thrashed Macau 13-0 on aggregate; Philippines won 4-0 at home to advance 5-1 over Sri Lanka; Myanmar scored twice at home to advance 2-1 on aggregate over Mongolia; Bangladesh held Pakistan 0-0 away to progress 3-0 on aggregate; and Nepal advanced 7-1 on aggregate over Nepal.
The World Cup qualifier was the highest profile football match on Palestinian territory to date.
“This is the most important game ever in Palestine,” Palestinian Football Federation chief Jibril Rajoub said.
Rajoub is a former Palestinian security chief who spent 17 years in Israeli prisons. He left politics in 2006 and was appointed head of the Palestinian Football Federation and Olympic committee two years later.
The Palestinian team remains a longshot to make it all the way to the 2004 World Cup in Brazil.
Ranked No. 171 in the world by FIFA—just six spots behind Afghanistan—the Palestinian team needs to make it through the second round to be included among the 20 Asian teams entered in the main draw for World Cup qualifying.
Palestinian athletes need Israeli permits for most travel, either to cross Israel from Gaza or to enter or leave the West Bank—a hurdle that has often kept players from key matches.
Israel's Olympic Committee said it is trying to facilitate greater movement for Palestinian athletes and Israel's military said it began easing restrictions on Palestinian athletes last year. Israel competes in European qualifying for the World Cup.
At Taipei, ASEAN champion Malaysia took a 2-1 lead into the match after last week's first round and extended the overall cushion to two goals when Mohammed Aidil Radzak scored in the eighth minute.
Han Chang pulled one back for Taiwan before Safiq Rahim restored Malaysia's buffer five minutes before halftime.
Chen Po Liang and Xavier Chen scored to give Taiwan a 3-2 lead in the return match and 4-4 overall, but the hosts were unable to find another goal in the last 15 minutes for an upset. Malaysia will meet archrival Singapore in the next round.
Le Cong Vinh scored eight goals to lead Vietnam to comprehensive home and away wins over Macau. He scored three times in the 6-0 win at Ho Chi Minh city last week and matched that in the first half on Sunday, then added two more in the second half of the 7-1 win.
The first leg of the second round of Asian qualifying starts July 23, with China hosting Laos, Iraq at home against Yemen, Saudi Arabia meeting Hong Kong, Iran taking on the Maldives, Nepal traveling to Jordan and Vietnam at Qatar among the 15 matches.
A draw for the third round, when the likes of Japan, South Korea and Australia enter qualifying, will be held July 30. AP