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Middle East

'France' wins World Cup!

For many of these Gazan players, the chance of playing in front of millions of people, or on TV, is the last thing on their mind. Most have day jobs and play football on the side.

Last modified: 15 May 2010 22:15
Photo from AFP

I know what you are thinking ... France wins the Word Cup? Is that a prediction? No it's a fact ... France has won the World Cup!! Allez les Bleus!! 

No not THAT World Cup ... that World Cup begins in South Africa in June ... the OTHER World Cup ... THE GAZA WORLD CUP!

Yup ... and boy was it thrilling ... the final was as dramatic as anyone could have wished for. The boys from France - who originally are the local amateur team from Rafah - were the favourites. But they were pretty much losing throughout the game to Jordan (no, thats not a typo).

Jordan, who were being represented by the local football club from Khan Younis, actually took an early lead and were close to the finish line when Les Rafahs came back and tied it all up ... and because the risk of an electricity cut threatened to put out the stadium lights, there was no extra-time played. Instead, the game went straight into a penalty shootout that France narrowly won!

Gazan football televised

For many of these players the chance of playing in front of millions or on TV is the last thing on their mind. Most have day jobs and play football on the side.

But on Saturday the Gaza World Cup final was televised on Al Jazeera Mubasher (our sister channel) to millions of homes around the world. So for a few hours, this World Cup final was THE ONLY World Cup final for the people and players of Gaza.

Bus loads of fans crammed the Yarmouk stadium hours before the game started, enjoying sweet frozen lemonade on a beautiful Gaza afternoon.

Dignitaries, including the deposed PM, were on hand to hand out the trophy and the streets of Gaza came to a stand still. And for a few hours, a football tournament meant to shed light on the plight of Gazans to the outside world help Gazans escape the reality of their daily lives and enjoy the world's game.

In the end, the Gaza World Cup was a simple reminder, as Patrick McGann, the American organiser of the tournament, told me: " [This is] to show the world that Gaza is not a bad place and ... sealing it off behind walls is not the way to solve a problem ... If the world could see this side of Gaza - the beautiful side through the power of sport - then perhaps, just perhaps, the world could start talking to the people here."

The celebrations

And for two weeks that's all the people of Gaza could talk about, the Gaza World Cup, including the intense rivalries between local teams donning the uniforms of traditional football powerhouses like Italy, Germany and England (There was even a charged Egypt-Algeria match that was reminiscent of the real World Cup qualifiers that triggered massive street clashes between rival fans ... in this match though Hamas security forces kept a lid on the fans from clashing.)

Not only did I have the privilege of covering it, I also got called up to the US national team (IN FULL DISCLOSURE I also managed to get my way on the Egyptian team as well ... one of the few advantages where my dual nationalities came into play and thankfully FIFA was not regulating this tournament).

And now the celebrations begin. To the victors go the spoils, though in this tournament it won't be fame, lucrative European contracts or even the Gold Coupe Du Monde Statuette ... here the winning prize was melted shrapnel from Israeli missiles dropped on Gaza during the 2008 war molded into the coveted Gaza's Champions Cup.

And for the players, adulation from their fans and from across Gaza ... a simple reminder and important message to those preparing for the real World Cup that this beautiful game is simply about that ... the game.