Gaza football 'World Cup' opens Monday, 3 May 2010 11:01 UK By Jon Donnison BBC News, Gaza
The banging Arab dance music, the blaring Italian National anthem, the reciting of the Koran and the over-excited Bedouin commentator led to quite an atmosphere for the opening of the Gazan Football "World Cup". http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8657820.stm
And that's before the first game even started.
"We want to show that Gazans enjoy life like every other people," says Tamir Qamoud from the United Nations Development Programme, which is organising the event.
Around 5,000 fans of all ages turned out on a beautiful sunny day for the opening match, Palestine versus Italy.
Flags from both teams fluttered around the stadium as the game kicked off.
Italy eventually won 1-0 after scoring through a penalty.
Sixteen teams are taking part in the two week tournament: Palestine, England, Turkey, USA, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Ireland, Egypt, Algeria, Spain, Serbia, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Jordan.
They are mostly made up from players from the amateur Gaza Football League, alongside foreign workers in Gaza from the respective countries.
"We want to show the spirit of international cooperation in Gaza," says Balma Yahia, a UN worker playing in the South African team.
During the opening ceremony he points out the America team parading around the stadium holding the US flag aloft.
"Look, how often can you see that in Gaza?", Mr Yahia asks. "We want to show that ordinary people here can just get along."
A Palestinian team has never managed to qualify for the real World Cup, though in 2006 reached a not unrespectable 115th in the Fifa world rankings.
The political situation meant they only really started trying for the World Cup in 2002, but for the past three tournaments have never made it out of the qualifying stages.
Under the blockade, it can be very difficult for Palestinian players to leave Gaza to play abroad - and for West Bank and Gaza players to train together.
Both territories have been occupied by Israel since 1967, although Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and now maintains control of the border, airspace and coast.
So do Gazans believe they will ever see a Palestinian team in the real World Cup?
"I want to be optimistic and say yes," says Samar Saleh, "but it's really hard to see it happening."