Pablo Bateson will attend all of Australia’s 2014 World Cup qualifying matches. He followed the Socceroos from Lebanon to Jordan as the journey to Brazil continues.
Beirut: Match day started with some sightseeing as we took in the Roman baths, Martyrs’ Square, mosques, historic excavations and the famous city waterfront. This culturally diverse city of well over one million people is truly one of the jewels of the eastern Mediterranean region.
The ritual pregame meet up of core supporters at a bar in Hamra was followed by an hour-long coach ride down the coast, where the game had been shifted to the compact and strikingly situated Municipal Stadium at Saida.
The late switch of venue had been forced by a disease that killed off significant areas of grass at the main Sports City Stadium. Part of the build-up for the players has been a meeting with Palestinian refugee children from Beirut and Saida. This worthy initiative was organised with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and assistance from the Australian Embassy.
At the final training session, Football Federation Australia donated signed Socceroos flags and shirts to the young people. Free tickets and transport to and from the match were also provided for the kids and their carers. This once again demonstrates the power of football to build bridges across cultures and bring joy to those from a marginalised section of humanity.
The 100th international game by Mark Schwarzer for Australia was commemorated by all squad members in the warm up session wearing specially designed training shirts emblazoned with the legend’s name and the number '100'. Most of the squad then gave these shirts to eager fans, including many from our travelling support group.
With the Socceroos flying on to Amman the day after the 3-0 win over Lebanon, we experienced more of Beirut, including the beach and café district of Hamra. The reception and hospitality towards us in this vibrant city has been very positive and welcoming.
We leave soon for Jordan and more exciting travel experiences beckon, including tours to Petra, the Dead Sea and Mt Nebo and other activities organised by the Australian Embassy and the Green and Gold Army.
The journey towards the goal of qualification continues, and new adventures will be the reward for those that are open to immersing themselves in different cultures and landscapes. Football can truly be a passport to the world.