MENA Sports Wrap: Turkey football in turmoil after referee punched by club president

MENA Sports Wrap: Turkey football in turmoil after referee punched by club president
MENA Sports Wrap: Turkey's football has been suspended after a referee was punched by a club president.
6 min read
15 December, 2023
It's been another eventful week in the world of MENA soccer [Getty]

Turkish football is in turmoil after a referee was punched by the president of Super Lig side MKE Ankaragucu with games suspended and Faruk Koca arrested.

The FIFA Club World Cup meanwhile kicked off in Saudi Arabia with Jeddah side Al-Ittihad gliding seamlessly into round two.

Meanwhile, there was other news to celebrate after Morocco won an African continental award and Messi v Ronaldo looks set to happen in Saudi Arabia.

Turkish football goes out with a bang

Turkish football was suspended on Monday after a club president punched a referee at the end of a 1-1 Super Lig game between MKE Ankaragucu and Caykur Rizespor.

Faruk Koca, president of the Super Lig side Ankaragucu, ran onto the pitch at full time and punched referee Halil Umut Meler.

Meler fell to the ground and was kicked amid a melee while fans also invaded the pitch.

Ankaragucu fans cheered on their club president as he attacked the Meler, Anadolu reported.

The referee was hospitalised with fracture near his eye, appearing in footage from a hospital with a brace around his neck. Meler is expected to be discharged on Wednesday.

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Koca was also hospitalised overnight due to a heart attack risk. Koca, a former Justice and and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker, "felt faint on the field after his violent action", Anadolu reported.

He was later arrested pending trial on charges of injuring a public official, and has resigned from his post as Ankaragucu president.

Ankaragucu fans have held gatherings and erected a marquee outside the prison where Koca is being held to demand his release.

Two people suspected of kicking Meler were also arrested, while another three were released on condition of regularly reporting to police.

Koca denied causing Meler any harm, saying he slapped the referee, according to HaberTurk. The Ankaragucu president had accused the official of making "wrongful decisions" and provocative acts, the channel’s report added.

Even Turkish politicians have weighed in on the furor, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemning the attack.

"Sports means peace and brotherhood. The sport is incompatible with violence. We will never allow violence to take place in Turkish sports," Erdogan wrote on X.

On Wednesday, the Turkish Football Federation announced that Turkish league games will resume on 18 December.

Club World Cup kicks-off in Saudi Arabia

Jeddah side Al-Ittihad began their FIFA Club World Cup campaign, held this year in Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday with a comfortable win over Auckland City FC.

Romarinho, N’Golo Kante, and Karim Benzema bagged a goal each in the 3-0 win over the New Zealand visitors setting them up for a second-round tie against Egyptian giants Al-Ahly on Friday.

The winners of the world's continental trophies will compete this year in Saudi Arabia for the trophy from 12 to 22 December. The exception this year is Al-Ittihad, who did not win the AFC Champions League last season but clinched the wild card host spot.

Champions League winner Manchester City and Copa Libertadores holders Fluminense received a bye to the semi-finals, while Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds or Mexico's Club Leon will compete in the other second-round clash.

The tournament is not particularly highly regarded by football fans in Europe but it will give Saudi Arabia the chance to shine after spending hundreds of millions of dollars in transfer fees and wages to bring in star players and being picked as hosts for the 2034 World Cup.

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Among the players to sign for Saudi teams over the past year are Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Fabinho, most of them going to the kingdom's top four clubs - Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and Al-Ahli - which are owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

Rivals Ronaldo and Messi to meet again

Arguably the 21st century’s great footballing adversaries, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, will meet again on Saudi soil next month in an upcoming fixture between Al-Nassr and Inter Miami.

The US club – which signed Messi this summer – will play against the Saudi side in the Riyadh Season Cup on 1 February.

The match is highly anticipated due to Messi and Ronaldo’s rivalry in the sport, with similar achievements, status and successes in football.

The Argentine and Portuguese superstars have met on numerous occasions during their respective spells at Barcelona and Real Madrid, having faced each other during La Liga’s much-awaited El Clasico games between 2009 and 2018.

During the 36 matches, Messi's teams have won 16 games, while the Portuguese forward's teams have won 11 - with nine draws. Messi has 22 goals and 11 assists in those matches; Ronaldo has 21 goals and one assist.

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February’s match will mark the second meeting this year after the two faced off in a friendly match when Messi was still at French club Paris St Germain.

Ronaldo played under a team made up of players from Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal.

Messi, who won the World Cup with Argentina almost a year ago, was rumoured to be joining a Saudi Pro League club over the summer amid a signing spree of high-profile players in the country.

The Argentinian captain, still with Paris St Germain, had made an unapproved trip to the Gulf country earlier to promote tourism, which fueled the speculations tenfold.

Messi then made a surprise multimillion-dollar move to Miami, while it was revealed that his wife Antonella was less than enthusiastic about a potential stay in Saudi Arabia.

Messi will also be seen playing against Al-Hilal on 29 January.

Africa's best

Morocco’s Atlas Lions were crowned 'National Team of the Year' at the African football awards this week, following their stellar performance in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and stand-out performances since.

The national team was up against nine other nominees including Senegal and Tanzania, before being awarded the coveted title.

Morocco’s win comes as they finished fourth in the FIFA World Cup last year, the highest-ever result for an Arab or African team at the global competition.

The Atlas Lions played nail-biting matches against European favourites Portugal and Spain, before bowing out against France in the semi-finals after a 2-0 defeat.

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The team, now ranked 13th in the world, were given a hero’s welcome in their home country when the competition’s ended.

The National Team of the Year prize wasn’t Morocco’s only award at the ceremony in Marrakech. Coach Walid Regragui, who guided the Atlas Lions to the semi-finals, was crowned Coach of the Year.

Regragui garnered praise for his coaching style in Qatar, and was called the tournament’s best manager by several football pundits.

To top off the evening, Yassine Bounou - now signed with Saudi side Al-Hilal and a stand-out player in Qatar -  won 'Goalkeeper of the Year'.

Paris St Germain right=back Achraf Hakimi -  alongside Liverpool forward Mo Salah - also scored a nomination for African Footballer of the Year, but the grand prize was given to Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, who became the first winner from his country since Nwankwo Kanu in 1999.