asia cupWith many European footballs needing use their full squad of players as some their international performers have been selected for duty in the ongoing African and Asian Nations Cup tournaments, spare a thought for those countries and FIFA-recognised footballing authorities struggling to assemble a team for the competitions. During the past two days in the Australian city of Canberra, a match occurred which demonstrated that the opportunity to play football can override any immediate concerns regarding internal conflicts and civil unrest nearer to home.

Both Iraq and Palestine were paired to play in Group D of the Asian Cup with Iraq eventually winning 2-0 ensuring their progression to the quarter-finals and the elimination of Palestine. The Palestinians played their first ever competitive game in 2011 and have enjoyed some success since that date but the actual assembly of a squad of players is fraught with problems due to travel restrictions and the granting of exit visas from both Gaza and the West Bank.

Footballers representing Palestine often tend to live in other parts of the World but are equally determined to fulfil their duty for their homeland as with those players registered for teams within the West Bank Premier League. The only goalscorer for Palestine during this tournament was Jaka Ihbeisheh who is employed as a striker for Slovenia club NK Krka and who has lived in Slovenia for most of his life after his father married a lady in that part of Europe.

As for Iraq, there has been much more success on the international football stage especially with their success in the 2007 Asian Cup. However, the country has been beset with internal strife in recent years and with the current wave of unrest and sectarian violence, the national federation has been banned by FIFA from playing international football matches in the country.

The current squad of players has been selected from teams based in areas with contrasting cultures such as Basra, Baghdad and Iraq Kurdistan and in a country with such a range of opposing viewpoints especially on religious grounds, gathering together a team of footballers appears to be one of the easier tasks.

In the quarter-finals, Iraq will play neighbours Iran and while the two countries have experienced bitter rivalry for many years including a prolonged war in the late 20th century, their respective footballers are quite happy to oppose each other on any available pitch.

It could also be argued that participating in international football tournaments offers an opportunity to be noticed by football agents representing the top European clubs and both the African and Asian tournaments will be invaded by scouts and agents of various scruples.

However, a game of football for the likes of Palestine and Iraq does provide an escape from any daily hardships which may be endured and appearing on the radar of a bona-fide agent can be viewed as an additional bonus.