Arab football teams kick off dramatic start to season

Arab football teams kick off dramatic start to season
Football leagues in the Arab world and Iran started this weekend, with some surprise performances from football minnows.
4 min read
18 Sep, 2016
Al-Ahli took the Super Cup back to Dubai after victory in Cairo [Anadolu]

This weekend saw the start of the Arab football leagues, while teams from the region took part in the Asian Champions League and the AFC Cup.

On Tuesday, the AFC Champions League quarter finals saw al-Ain from the UAE play away to Lokomotiv Tashakent for the second leg.

Omar Abdulrahman and his friends made no mistakes after a goalless tie at home in the first leg, winning 1-0 with a goal of Brazilian striker Caio, who ensured the club's place at the semi-finals.

Gulf clubs

The real controversy took place on the other quarter final match between Dubai's al-Nasr and El Jaish from Qatar. Al-Nasr won on the first leg in August 3-0, with goals from Brazilian Wanderley and Jonathan Pitroipa from Burkina Faso.

After the match it was revealed that Wanderley - who was listed as an Asian player - holds a fake Indonesian passport.

The AFC forfeited Al-Nasr's victory on the spot, giving a 3-0 victory to El-Jaish and granted the Brazilian a two months ban.

The second leg, took place on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory for the Qataris with one goal from Romarinho, a true Brazilian without any additional nationality.

El-Jaish will meet al-Ain in the semi-finals, and will represent the Arab world in the Asian Champions League.

In the Asian Football Confederation Cup, an exciting Arab Derby was witnessed in the quarter finals with al-Jaish from Syria taking on Iraq's al-Quwa al-Jawiya.

Due to the devastating situation at both countries, the match was moved to the Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Stadium at al-Wakra, Qatar.

Only 400 people watched Iraqi Ahmad Hammadi scoring in the 98th minute (!)  for al-Quwa al-Jawiya, as the teams
separated with a 1-1 tie, leaving the second leg open. 

Another Arab clash took place in the competition's quarter finals first leg, with Lebanon's al-Ahed - a club identified with and largely supported by members of Hizballah - won 1-0 against Bahraini side al-Muharraq club with a fast goal by local star Ahmad Zreik.

A historic clash took place in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday, as Emirati champions and cup winners al-Ahli and al-Jazira played in the country's first super cup match outside the UAE.

Lebanon's al-Ahed is largely supported by members of Hizballah.

The air force stadium in the Egyptian capital hosted 20,000 fans who watched two of the Emirates' best sides clash for pre-season glory. 

An own goal by Mohammed Fawzi and a penalty by Brazilian Lima sealed the match that ended in a 2-1 victory for the Ahlawys.

From Iraq to Palestine

During the weekend, leagues across the Arab world played their first match days.

In Iraq, the league started with a new 20 team format with champions al-Zawraa winning their opening game 2-0 against al-Kahrabaa at al-Taj stadium. Meanwhile al-Minaa Basra hammered al-Hussein 3-1 at the al-Basra Sports City Stadium.

On Friday, the Palestinian West Bank Premier League kicked off with three matches, seeing two Hebronite clubs - Shabab al-Khaleel and al-Ahli al-Khaleel - gaining victories over their rivals.

Read the first segment of the Arab football diary here 

Although Ahli easily beat newly promoted Markz Tulkarem 3-0 in Hebron, Shabab - who invested almost million dollars on new players during the summer - struggled against the small club Taraji Wadi al-Nes at al-Khader Stadium near Bethlehem. 

Majd Younis scored the winner for Shabab on the 94th minute after a violent and nervous match that saw nine yellow cards and two red cards flashed by the referee, along with three goals and 6,000 "Khalele" fans in the stands, producing a hot atmosphere.

In Qatar and the UAE, the leagues have started, seeing almost all the big teams taking easy points on their first games. Al-Sadd, Baghdad Bounedjah, Lekhwiya Club and al-Rayyan, all scored more than three goals to take the leads in the Qatari Stars League.

After winning the Super Cup, al-Ahli Dubai and Ahmed Khalil thrashed the Emirates Club 4-0. A magnificent free kick by the national team' star and another goal from new purchase - Ghanaian legend Asamoah Gyan - helped the team take the lead early on the season.

The match day surprise came thanks the small Hatta Club, promoted this season from second division held Javier Aguirre's al-Wahda in a goalless draw. That's impressive.

Iran saw its "El Clasico" derby between Persepolis and Esteghlal Tehran on Friday afternoon. Despite the Azadi Stadium hosting almost 50,000 fans, the match didn't arouse much passion or performance on the pitch with the game ending in a goalless draw.

This is one of the worst starts to a season for Esteghlal, and after the first six games they are in place 15th - second from bottom - with only two points out of thirty six, and no wins.

On the same afternoon in Amman, Jordan, the Shield Cup final between al-Faisaly and Shabab al-Ordon was played. The minor Amman derby (the biggest being al-Faisaly against Wahadat) produced a shocking score of 5-1, after Shabab ended al-Faisaly's dream to winning the title.

With a dynamic Brazilian, shock defeats, a fake Indonesian passport, the UAE cup final in Cairo, the Arab football season is finally here in true dramatic style.

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.