The jewel in Palestine's football crown

Palestine's star player, Ashraf Nu’man, in his home village of Wadi Al-Nes. (Scott McIntyre)

Australian football fans are about to see first hand why Palestine striker Ashraf Nu'man is being tracked by clubs across Asia and the Middle East. In part three of Football Under Fire, I caught up with Nu'Mun in his small village Wadi Al-Nes.

The road from Ramallah to the tiny village of Wadi Al-Nes passes through several Israeli checkpoints, up and down kilometre after kilometre of nondescript rocky outcrops, until finally you arrive.

Maybe you arrive.

Wadi Al-Nes looks, to the untrained eye, just like any other of the dozen or so neighbouring villages and even those who live nearby are unsure exactly where it is.

At one point we stopped to ask a local who suggested, sincerely, it might be thirty kilometres in the direction from which we'd come. It's clear the fancy Google mapping car hasn't quite made it this far yet.

Eventually, after much probing and furrowing of brows we arrived – albeit slightly late - for a meeting with the village's most famous resident.

Arguably one of Palestine's most famous residents.

It's been two months since the right foot of Ashraf Nu'man swung its way into football folklore in the state but it's clear the relative windfall the players received hasn't gone towards an upgrade to include the A-List trappings so many star players worldwide adopt.

It was Nu'man's goal against the Philippines in the final of the recent Challenge Cup which propelled Palestine into the finals of its first major tournament and which sparked widespread celebration throughout the region. A more humble man you'd struggle to meet.

Dressed casually in jeans and a striped polo shirt he invited us into the home of the wealthiest man in the village who also happens to double as the president of its football team.

With a population of just 800 people, most of whom earn their living through the local quarry, the football team of Wadi Al-Nes could be expected to struggle to win its local league but in a land where reality is often of the stark variety, this club is a real fairy-tale story.

Powered by the talents of a man who many believe may just be the best Palestinian footballer ever Nu'man and Taraji Wadi Al-Nes brushed off a host of clubs with far greater funding and resources to win the West Bank Premier League last season.

This is the reason why I've come to his tiny village; to meet a man few in Asia, let alone Australia have heard of yet who, come the end of next January, may just be a household name.

A player who moves like he was born to be a footballer; the poise on the ball, the movement, the feints, the dead-ball prowess and the dribbles – it's as close to the complete package as you're likely to find in the region.

For a player whose footballing idol is Cristiano Ronaldo it's clear he's spent more than a few hours studying and imitating his moves – those of the footballing variety, at least.

Little wonder then that he's being tracked by a host of leading clubs across the Middle East and the Gulf.

The focus for now though is on preparing for Palestine's first appearance at a major tournament as the glow from that Challenge Cup victory fills the side with hope that it may be able to upset the odds in January, as the 27 year old explains.

"The motivation amongst the playing group was really high at that tournament and we knew we had to bring joy to the people of Palestine because we are under the occupation now.

"We knew that this was an historic moment, a historic chance for Palestinian football and the Palestinian people.

"Now, we expect in the first match at the Asian Cup against Japan to get a draw and if we achieve this then I think we can go further in the tournament.

"We have improved as a group from three years ago until now and we have a good coach, Jamal Mahmoud, from Jordan who is a good tactician and we have players also who are really good as you will see in the Asian Cup.

The week I travelled to Wadi Al-Nes was in the middle of some of the fiercest of the recent fighting in neighbouring Gaza and just days after four children had been killed by rockets while playing on a beach.

It was, as you could imagine, an incredibly tense time and it's a tragedy that has touched the lives of all Palestinians – footballers included.

"Most of the Palestinian players have family in Gaza and we are the same people whether in the West Bank or Gaza, we are the one Palestinian people.

"Most of us have friends in Gaza so this war affects the minds of everybody, the players also.

It's this daily reality which anyone involved in the sport in Palestine faces; where to play, how to play and with what, as their state struggles to cope with the devastation that conflict can bring.

It's why the recent World Cup was such a welcome escape. A chance to focus on football for a few hours and forget about the conflict raging all around.

It's also the ultimate dream for all Palestinians – that they may one day make it to that stage.

"Arab football has improved a lot in the past ten years, the situation is better in this area than in East Asia and this is our dream to go to the World Cup.

"We watched how the Algerian side played in the World Cup at a high level and no-one expected that; this is the big dream for us and at the same time it's not impossible.

As so many in the region were, Nu'man was supporting the host nation in Brazil and after that astonishing semi-final loss was left feeling as if the dream of Palestine competing on the world stage is maybe just a little closer than before.

"I'm a big fan of Brazil but they made a really bad impression, perhaps if Palestine played at the World Cup we could have a good result against Brazil!"

As we leave the house and step back out onto the street it seems as if the whole village knew we were there and had come to see us off.

Standing in the shadows of the local mosque, in the mid-afternoon sun, I asked Nu'man one more time about the impact that the unfolding war is having.

"For me, politics is related to sport and although I'm not concerned with politics these times are so difficult," he explained.

"I cry every day when I see these pictures and the children, the four children on the beach, killed playing football."

"I can't even speak about these things because it makes me too sad."