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

Palestine’s national football team begin their challenge for a place in the next phase of Asia’s 2026 World Cup preliminaries in Sharjah on Thursday, facing off against Lebanon at a neutral venue due to the impact of the Israel-Hamas war in the region.

Thursday’s opener had originally been scheduled to be played in Beirut before Palestine were set to host Australia the following week but Israel’s response to the attack by Hamas on October 7 forced officials to find new venues.

Lebanon and Palestine will meet at the Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium in the UAE 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 November 21.

Graham Arnold’s Socceroos host Bangladesh in Melbourne before facing Palestine.

This week’s matches mark the start of the second phase of the continent’s qualifiers for the expanded 48-team 2026 World Cup, 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 advance to the third phase, which is scheduled to kick 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 their quest for a seventh World Cup appearance against Hong Kong in Group E, where Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan also feature.

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

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