Thirteen thousand seven hundred and seven kilometers.
That's the distance from Jerusalem to Melbourne. And I think we can all agree we felt the magnitude of the distance today. Not strictly in a geographic sense.
Of course I am referring to a memorable (for the wrong reasons) Asian Cup encounter with regional rivals Jordan eight months ago. The venue, Melbourne's photogenic AAMI Park stadium. Palestine took a rather expected beating from tournament favorites Japan in the group opener four days prior. Not too big a deal, we weren't expecting much of a result anyways, but we knew there was no room for dropping any more points. The lead up to the tournament was filled with mismanagement and a little bad luck, but we kept an optimistic outlook anyways.
I took my seat close to the pitch, right near the middle to witness the action up close and personal. As the game progressed, I realized I chose the worst seat in the house for that exact reason. Its never pleasant to watch your team get torn apart. The Australian fellow sitting next to me remarked (as many do ) that "playing in the Asian Cup is an achievement in itself". I explained that we are a point where we expect more - and not of delusion.
It was a big blow. All our hopes for the national team were in the hands of an incompetent football association that couldn't even give us a decent showing on the continental stage. The most zealous of fans were turned to cynics.
Fast forward to Palestine's first home match after the fiasco down under. The qualifying campaign so far has been decent to say the least. Playing away from home, Palestine was only edged by Saudi Arabia, and won by six in Malaysia. As opposed to the Asian Cup days, a capable manager has been at the helm with the resources and time to build a team. This is evident in the lineup, rather than a model overly reliant on one superstar, you have a solid group.
What we got today was a good result against one of Asia's best sides. Even better, a full stadium backing our boys. I bet the players felt a world away from Melbourne. But then again, maybe not completely. One thing you can't forget is the thousands of fans cheering until the final whistle and all the way out of AAMI Park.