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War forces Palestine, Lebanon football teams to begin World Cup quest away from home

HongKong: Palestine’s nationalsoccerteambegintheir challenge for a place in the next phase of Asia’s 2026WorldCuppreliminaries in Sharjah on Thursday, facing off againstLebanonat a neutral venue duetothe impact of the Israel-Hamaswarin the region.

Thursday’s opener had originally been scheduledtobe played in Beirut beforePalestinewere settohost Australia the following week but Israel’s responsetothe attack by Hamas on Oct. 7forcedofficialstofind new venues.

LebanonandPalestinewill meet at the Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium in the United Arab Emirates before the Palestinians, who usually host games at Al-Ram’s Faisal Al-Husseini Stadium on the West Bank, take on Australia in Kuwait on Nov. 21.

Graham Arnold’s Socceroos host Bangladesh in Melbourne before facingPalestine.

This week’s matches mark the start of the second phase of the continent’s qualifiers for the expanded 48-team2026WorldCup, when Asia will have eight guaranteed berths plus a possible ninth available through an intercontinental playoff.

The top two finishers in each of the nine groups advancetothe third phase, which is scheduledtokick off next September.

Japan face Myanmar in Osaka in Group B, which also features Syria and North Korea, while South Korea face Singapore in Group C, with Thailand taking on China in the other group fixture.

Iran kick off theirquestfor a seventhWorldCupappearance against Hong Kong in Group E, where Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan also feature.

Saudi Arabia’s challengebeginsin Group G against Pakistan, who have qualified for the second phase of Asia’s preliminaries for the first time, with Tajikistan taking on Jordan.

(Published 13 November 2023, 09:28 IST)

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