Saudi Arabia’s football team visits al-Aqsa in Jerusalem ahead of West Bank game
Saudi Arabia’s national football team visited the al-Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem on Monday morning, a day before their historic game against the Palestinian national team in the occupied West Bank.
The visit to the site is part of the Saudi Arabian team’s unprecedented trip to the Palestinian territories. The World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday will be the first time the teams face off in the West Bank. Past games have taken place in third countries.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, chairman of the country’s Sports Authority, said the decision for the team to play in the West Bank came in response to a request by the Palestinian Federation and their desire to host the game.
“At the request of the brothers in the Palestinian Federation, the Saudi Football Federation agrees to play the first team match in the Asian qualifiers in the city of Ramallah in Palestine,” Saudi Arabia’s Sports Authority said on October 3 in a statement on Twitter.
Arab countries’ national football teams have historically refused to play matches in the West Bank, as it required them to apply for Israeli entry permits.
The Saudi Arabian team arrived to the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday via bus from Jordan. Palestinians welcomed the Saudi Arabian team upon their arrival.
“We welcome them, this is their second home. Whether [the Saudi national team] wins or the Palestinian national team [wins], we’re the same,” a university student in Ramallah told Al Arabiya.
Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. The site includes the famous Dome of the Rock shrine and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
“This is the most beautiful day in my life,” said Yasser al-Mishal, the president of the Saudi Arabia Football Federation.
“Really, it’s hard to express my feelings. I thank God that I could visit al-Aqsa mosque and pray inside the mosque,” said al-Mishal.
The Group D World Cup qualifier will take place in the Palestinian town of al-Ram, at the 12,500-seater Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium.
Saudi Arabia currently top Group D after two games, while Palestine are fourth. Uzbekistan, Singapore, and Yemen complete the group.