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THE PALESTINIAN quest was not the only significant happening in the early stages of Road to Rio. Other story lines:
BELIZE vs. MONTSERRAT
Home field advantage never came into play. The first leg was held in Trinidad because Montserrat, which was hit by a volcano in 2004, doesn't have a suitable stadium, and the second in Honduras after FIFA punished Belize for "severe governmental interference"—i.e., demanding electoral and financial transparency from its soccer federation.
SINGAPORE vs. MALAYSIA
Singapore's Tigers controversially employed five naturalized players in the starting XI, prompting fans of the rival Lions last Thursday to unfurl a sign reading ONE HUNDRED PERCENT MALAYSIANS, NO FOREIGNERS! Singapore won 6--4 on aggregate; all goals came from imports.
OMAN vs. MYANMAR
Trailing 2--0 on aggregate, Myanmar gave up two quick goals, prompting fans to bombard the pitch with water bottles, rocks and shoes. A member of the Oman coaching staff was struck with a projectile, and officials abandoned the tie after 40 minutes, giving Oman a 4--0 win.
Last Saturday in Rio matchups in the next round were set. Some of the most intriguing pairings are in Europe. Defending champion Spain was drawn alongside 2006 finalist France in Group I, but the tension there will be nothing compared with that in Group A, where Serbia and Croatia—archrivals since the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s—face each other. "The national associations have a good relationship," said Serbia manager Vladimir Petrovic, "but the people don't."