Back to earth: This week in Middle East football

Back to earth: This week in Middle East football
Syria's national team stars return to club action, but continue to shine - with some attracting attention from bigger teams abroad, despite losing to Australia in the World Cup qualifiers.
4 min read
16 Oct, 2017
Midfielder Mahmoud al-Mawas assured Umm Salal's 4-1 victory over Al-Arabi in Qatar [AFP]
After a massive effort last week, ending in proud disappointment in the World Cup qualifications against Australia, Syria's national team heroes are returning to club action.

Most of the stars are still shining for their clubs, and some are even attracting attention from bigger teams abroad, as a result of their performances on the international stage.

The people's hero, Omar al-Somah, scored a brace and provided an assist in Al-Ahli Jeddah's 5-2 victory over Al-Shabab in the Saudi Dawry Jameel.

With these goals, al-Somah reached the 100-goal benchmark in domestic Saudi competitions for Al-Ahli, and highlighted his status as Asia's best striker at the moment.

Mahmoud al Mawas, the sensational midfielder, set up two goals in Umm Salal's 4-1 victory over Al-Arabi in Qatar. On the losing side, Mardik Mardikyan notched the consolation goal.

Youssouf Qalfa provided an assist in Al-Nasar's draw with Al-Qadsia in the Kuwaiti League, while Hamid Mido did the same for his Al-Kuwait club.

While on the subject of Kuwaiti football, Firas al-Khatib, the Syrian ace who came off the bench twice against Australia, has won the local league's player of the month award, after a sublime performance for Salmiyeh - despite the team being held to a goaless draw by Kazma.

From Syrians abroad to one that stayed at home, after showing his talent in the World Cup qualifying showcase, Ibrahim Alma is in negotiations with Al-Faisaly, champions of Jordan. The goalkeeper, who last season played for Ittihad Aleppo, is a hot commodity due to his natural talent, high skills and low asking price.

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From trauma to goals

Last season, Hebron's Ahli Al-Khaleel went to Gaza to play Shabab Khan Younis in the Palestine Cup final - the head-to-head between the winners of the West Bank and Gaza cups.

One of their top players was Mahmoud Wadi, a Gazan-born striker, and one of Palestine's main prospects for the future.

After impressing at the Palestine Cup against Al-Ahli Khaleel a year earlier, the Hebron club bought him together with Mohamed Saleh, and the impact was immediate.

The young striker has scored several goals for the red devils from Hebron, starring both at the local and continental stage.

But then, something stopped his progress.

When Al-Ahli were due to return from Gaza after their match against Shabab Khan Younis, the Israeli army prevented Wadi from returning to the West Bank, citing "security" charges.

In a moment his whole career was in danger - playing the Gazan League is somewhat different from the West Bank, in terms of both professionality and earning potential.

Broken up about his destiny, Wadi did not give up on his dream. He returned to his mother club, Ittihad Khan Younis and worked hard. He scored and became Ittihad's captain.

When Al-Ahli returned this season for the Palestine Cup final, this time against Shabab Rafah, Wadi featured in the West Bank team's line-up. Deep inside, he hoped once again to return to Hebron with his former club. But once again it didn't happen.

Al-Ahli did not any take chances with the return, as they have enough mess to deal with when playing Palestine Cup games in Gaza. But then Wadi got an interesting offer through a Palestinian agent. Not from Hebron's Al-Ahli, but Al-Ahli in Amman, Jordan.

Al-Ahli Amman is a medium-sized club in the Jordanian Dauri Manaseer league. Together with Moha Balah, Wadi joined the club and the team is enjoying one of its best season openings ever.

After five games, Al-Ahli are second in the league, with nine points, having scored 12 - with Wadi netting five himself.

On Saturday, Al-Ahli hammered Al-Yarmouk with Wadi scoring an impressive brace, sending a message to the bigger teams of the Jordanian capital - he's the striker they need to fear this season.

The story of Mahmoud Wadi is not a story about Gaza, or about the occupation. It's not even really a story about football.

It is a story of a boy who dreamed big, believed in himself - no matter how high the obstacles in front of him - and achieved his goals, against all odds. We need more of these stories - in football, in Gaza and everywhere else. 

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.