But 27 minutes later Thailand sucked the sound out of the stadium. A gorgeous goal. An away goal, meaning Palestine would need two more of its own to advance. By the 87th minute fans were streaming toward the exits. Even Rajoub vacated his VIP seat, leaving the Thai FA president by himself. But could you believe it? Alyan scored again. His coworkers back at the health center would be proud: nine goals in nine national-team games! But it wasn't enough. Sometimes Goliath wins.
Nearly three years before a ball is kicked in Brazil, Palestine was out of the World Cup. "Good start, bad finish," said Jarun, who was bothered by the easygoing response of some teammates afterward. "This comes only once every four years, and they don't understand the implications of a game like today. But they did a good job on the field, so I can't blame 'em."
Palestine wasn't alone. By the time of last Saturday's World Cup preliminary draw in Rio, a globally televised event that determined qualifying matches across FIFA's six confederations, 32 nations comprising 29% of the world's population had already been eliminated. India was out. Pakistan and Mauritania and Aruba were out. East Timor? Done. Turks and Caicos? Done.
Back in the West Bank, Murad Alyan could only shake his head. In one week he had played two games, traveled to Thailand and back, put in three full shifts at his day job, trained with the team and scored two World Cup qualifying goals. Now his wife, Maali, was waiting for him at home in Jerusalem. "I am going to sleep for 24 hours!" he announced, using his first English of the week. "I am very tired."
Grant Wahl on new U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann and the World Cup draw at SI.com/soccer