Football

US-born Palestine midfielder Albadawi proud to play for his homeland

It is the eve of their vital World Cup qualifier against Singapore and Palestine are set for their last training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

No surprises then that the team's media officer was reluctant to accede to this reporter's request to interview their US-born player Nazmi Albadawi.

"There is no time. We have training now," said the media officer when Albadawi, who was putting on his boots, took notice.

The 28-year-old then eased the access by signalling his interest to be interviewed.

The US-born midfielder wants to speak. He wants his story to be heard and he wants the world to know his pride of playing for Palestine.

It was only as recent as last November, when he was called up for Palestine - the homeland of his grandparents - that he first stepped foot in the country.

He made it a debut to remember by scoring the winner in a 2-1 friendly victory over Pakistan.

Both sets of Albadawi's grandparents left the then-British Mandate of Palestine in 1938, a tumultuous time in the days before Israeli statehood.

His father's family left their hometown of Tarshiha, now part of northern Israel and known as Ma'alot-Tarshiha.

They sought a temporary respite in Kuwait, but fled to the US during the Iraqi invasion in 1990.

AMAZING DEBUT

On his international debut, Albadawi told The New Paper: "It was an amazing feeling. I can't describe it.

"I've always wanted to go to Palestine. That was my first time that I ever got to go. It's a different feeling to be back in your homeland... And I hope to keep going back for a long time.

"There was initially a little bit of worry from my family as far as safety was concerned, because we didn't know too much of the situation back in Palestine...

"But since I've made the decision, I couldn't be happier. I feel so proud every time I put on the Palestine shirt."

In a country riddled with bureaucratic challenges with Israel, it is not always easy for a Palestinian footballer to focus on the football, Albadawi added.

A few days after his debut, he was part of a diaspora with foreign passports forced to travel separately from the Palestine-based players, whose local travel papers meant added red tape.

While most of his teammates ply their trade in the Middle East, Albadawi has spent all his football career in the US.

Now playing for North Carolina FC, who compete in the second-tier USL Championship, he hopes to shine and earn a return to parent club FC Cincinnati, who are in Major League Soccer.

What he also hopes to do is to bring more cheer to his people.

Referring to last Thursday's 2-0 win over Uzbekistan, he said: "What made the win so special... is not the fact that we beat them.

"But it's because we beat them at our home field in front of our fans and we were able to see how happy they were. You could see what it meant to them.

"Any way that we can put a smile on the Palestinian people's faces, I think it's a big deal to us." - DEEPANRAJ GANESAN

Football