Palestinian soccer team
Players of the Palestinian soccer team in the West Bank town of A-Ram. Photo by AP
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The first World Cup game ever to be played at home in the Palestinian territories took place Sunday, as the Palestinian national team secured its place in the next round after a 1-1 draw against Afghanistan, the BBC reported.

For years, Palestinian soccer was disorganized, underfunded and hindered so much by Israeli travel restrictions that games were often forfeited because players couldn't arrive for the kickoff.

"When teams come play on our land, it's a way of recognizing the Palestinian state," said player Murad Ismael, 26, to the Associated Press last month. "That benefits the Palestinian cause, not just Palestinian sports."

But the sport is now growing, with new stadiums rising across the West Bank and the local soccer federation hosting international competitions. Players say boosting the game is about more than sports: It's a mission to build an independent nation.

The team still has a long way to go to make it to Brazil. Ranked No. 171 in the world by FIFA last month, the Palestinians would need to make it through a second preliminary round to even be included among the 20 Asian teams that enter the main draw for the World Cup, which takes place on July 30. When all qualifying rounds are over in 2013, four Asian teams will earn direct spots to the World Cup in Brazil, while a fifth advances to a playoff against a team from another continent.