Mahmoud Wadi brings some Gaza magic to Al-Masry: This week in Middle Eastern football

Mahmoud Wadi brings some Gaza magic to Al-Masry: This week in Middle Eastern football
Also: the Saudis go on a sacking spree, and Middle Eastern football giants come to a head in the Asian Champions League.
5 min read
19 Sep, 2018
Al-Masry's new Palestinian signing has brought some magic to the pitch [Getty]
It was Sunday. It was Port Said. It was the African Confederation Cup quarter-finals.

Mahmoud Wadi, Al-Masry's Palestinian forward, gets the ball inside the Ittihad Algiers' box, tries one shot, gets blocked by a defender, and then, a little bit of magic.

Wadi controls the rebound, turns on the spot and in one natural movement releases a back-heel shot straight into the net. The crowd goes crazy. Al-Masry get their precious advantage ahead of the second leg in Algiers, and Wadi gets his first goal in his new team shirt, in front of the home crowd, after arriving at the beginning of the summer from Al-Ahli Amman in the Jordanian League.

Moreover, it was probably one of the highest-profile goals a Palestinian footballer has ever scored.

We talked about 24-year-old Wadi on these pages when he was shining for Al-Ahli Amman last season. He had been a frustrated player a year previously. He was stuck in Gaza, his home, after returning there to play in the Palestine Cup with Ahli Al-Khaleel from the West Bank - the Israeli authorities, citing "security reasons", forced him to stay in the blockaded coastal enclave when his teammates travelled back to Hebron in the West Bank after their match. His career was in true danger.

Wadi did not give up. He returned to the local Gaza League, performed well and earned his chance in Jordan. There he continued his run of form, scored 10 goals through the season, and was approached with an offer from Al-Masry, a big club in Egypt.

In his five Egyptian League appearances he has already provided two goal assists, and now, he has finally made his mark with a lucrative goal in the African Confederation Cup.

"It is definitely a special feeling for me," Wadi told The New Arab after the match.

"I was looking forward to scoring and I was very ambitious to do it in the first chance I got, thank God.

"The experience in Egypt is quite different from what I had so far. It's a tough one, but my previous experiences in Palestine and Jordan have prepared me well for this moment, so I deal well with life at Al-Masry."

Slowly but surely, Wadi is becoming a massive name in Palestinian football, setting more and more benchmarks and eyeing Ashraf Nu'man's throne as the best Palestinian footballer ever:

"I am very ambitious to finish as the Egyptian league top scorer, but my dream is to win titles with Al-Masry, and especially to set an unprecedented benchmark in the Confederation Cup, inshallah."

Al-Sheikh's show goes on

Saudi football is always fascinating. Last week Turki al-Sheikh, the Saudi sports minister with the ear of the crown prince and the strongest figure in the Middle Eastern game, promised some "surprising changes".

At first, he orchestrated a change of presidency at Al-Hilal, as former legend Sami Al-Jaber - who took over the Blues just a few months back - was shunted into an administrative role in the Saudi sports ministry. In his place, Saudi Prince Mohamed bin Faisal Saud was signed as president of the country's most important club.

But Al-Jaber wasn't the only person to lose their job in Saudi football this week. Ramon Diaz, the Argentinean coach of Ittihad Jeddah, was fired from the club, after two losses from the two first match days of the season.

Diaz coached Al-Hilal last year, leading the club to the Asian Champions League final and its first Saudi domestic league title in four years - but was eventually sacked after a loss to Esteghlal Tehran in the Champions League group stage.

Read more: Pyramids FC: Saudi money is bringing cultural colonisation to Egypt

Diaz, a River Plate legend, has now been sacked by both of Saudi Arabia's biggest clubs. A local coach, Bander Masrih, has taken over at Ittihad Jeddah.

Al-Sheikh has his fingers in many pies - and not just in Saudi Arabia. At the beginning of the week, he set up another massive deal. Omar Khribin, the famed Syrian striker, 2017 Asian Player of the year and Al-Hilal forward for the past two seasons, will move to Al-Sheikh's Egyptian mega-club, Pyramids FC, on-loan in January.

This is a massive move for Al-Sheikh's new project in Egypt, and a player like Khribin could be a game-changer in the Egyptian Premier League title race.

If that wasn't enough, more big news came in the middle of the week: a friendly tournament will be held in Saudi Arabia in October hosting the Saudi national team, Brazil, Argentina and Iraq. As we have said, Saudi football is always fascinating.

Asian competitions

The Asian continental competitions have returned to action in the past week and produced some top stories for the region's clubs.

Iran's Persepolis pulled off a huge comeback against Qatari club Al-Duhail to win the regional semi-final's second leg 3-1, setting up a great Middle Eastern regional final in the Asian Champions League against Qatar's Al-Sadd, who eliminated Esteghlal Tehran of Iran in the other semi.

Al-Sadd had also enjoyed a 3-1 victory in Tehran in the first leg, and drew the second leg in Doha 2-2, securing a first regional final since 2011.

Al-Sadd vs Persepolis is a great match-up for the Asian Champions League. While Al-Sadd has real potential to become a serious continental superpower, Persepolis is a legendary club that is always good to have in major events. Expect some great scenes.

In the AFC Cup, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya took a significant step towards a third final in three years with a 1-0 victory in Jordan against Al-Jazeera Amman. Hammadi Ahmed scored the only goal and brought the Iraqi mega-club one match closer to winning Asia's second-tier cup for three consecutive years.


Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.