Palestinian team in next round of WCup qualifiers

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.