As the Premier League burns on through the winter, as Michel’s Girona light up La Liga, and as Xabi Alonso’s stocks go through the roof at Leverkusen, there’s been a huge football narrative outside of Europe that hasn’t had the spotlight it deserves.
And despite its glaringly obvious value to the world – I’m not here to talk about AFCON. Instead, it’s the AFC Asian Cup that’s due some much needed praise for the joy it’s brought to the world far beyond the field of play.
What pushes football beyond all other sports and into something culturally transformative, is the power and influence underpinning the game’s biggest teams, characters and stories.
In international tournaments, teams that represent people who are otherwise underrepresented in other areas of global life have the potential to bring their country’s culture and causes to the world’s attention.
Within this year’s AFC Asian Cup, look no further for evidence of this than Palestine’s success.
The team’s 3-0 victory over Hong Kong meant Palestine progressed into the last-16 stage of the tournament for the first time in their history, all against the backdrop of violence, oppression and occupation back home.
Against all odds, their progression in this tournament was a display of strength from a squad that acted as an international symbol of pride and unity from the Palestinian state. At a time of great trauma, this team provided power to their people.
It’s no secret that Palestine has had an unfairly hard road cementing a statehood that’s recognised by so many global political standards – but within football, the AFC has always recognised and accepted Palestine’s right to participate.