World Cup 2018: Palestinians and Saudi Arabia at loggerheads over key game

    (CNN)FIFA has relocated the Palestinians' World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia, after the Saudi team refused to travel to the West Bank.

    Fulfilling the October 13 fixture at a stadium on the outskirts of Ramallah would require the Saudis to go through the West Bank's Israeli-controlled borders. Saudia Arabia is among a few dozen Arab and Muslim countries that don't recognize Israel.
    The three-member FIFA panel -- presidential candidate Michel Platini, Asian Football Confederation chief Sheikh Salman and Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad -- moved the second-leg qualifier to Amman in Jordan.
      In a September 28 letter written to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Palestinian Football Association (PFA) president Jibril Rajoub said he was shocked that the decision had been made unilaterally even after the Palestinians offered "to fly the Saudi team from Amman to Ramallah" by helicopter.
      That would have needed the approval from the Israeli authorities, given Israel controls the West Bank's borders, as well as who enters and leaves the territory.
      The political wrangling began almost as soon as the Asian qualification draw for Russia 2018 was made earlier this year.
      Group A threw the Palestinians together with not only the Saudis, but two other countries that don't recognize Israel: the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.

      "Exceptional conditions"

      The first match was supposed to between the Palestinians and Saudis in the West Bank in June, but the game was swapped at the last minute. Saudi Arabia invoked "exceptional conditions" and went on to win the match in Dammam 3-2 after scoring in the fifth minute of injury time.
      But last month the UAE team did travel to the West Bank, where the two teams played out a 0-0 draw in front of a 15,000 strong full house. Malaysia is due to play in the West Bank on November 12.
      The Palestinians lie just two points behind Saudi Arabia in the Group A and still stands a chance of progressing to the next round as they try to qualify for their first ever World Cup finals, after reaching their first Asian Cup finals in Australia earlier this year.
      It is not the first time a country has tried to avoid traveling to the West Bank over a soccer match.
      The Palestinians' first home qualification tie for the 2014 World Cup finals against Afghanistan, another country that does not recognise Israel, was thrown in to doubt after the Afghan government initially refused permission for the team to travel.
      But, after FIFA intervened citing the organization's ban on political interference, the Afghan team flew to Jordan and crossed the Israeli Allenby Bridge checkpoint overland. The match finished 1-1.
        UEFA, FIFA, the PFA and the Saudi Football Federation were not immediately available for comment.