Derbies and defining history: Middle East football this week

Derbies and defining history: Middle East football this week
Blog: From the Asian Champions League semi-finals to the U17 women's World Cup, it's been a busy week for football fans in the region.
5 min read
03 Oct, 2016
Jordan's Tasneem AbuRob and Rand Albustanji became the first hijab-wearers at a World Cup [Getty]

For a quiet week on the pitch, it has yet been remarkable in the history of Middle Eastern football.

On Tuesday, Abu Dhabi's would-famous skyline was illuminated in purple, in honour of Emirati superstars Al-Ain.

Almost 20,000 fans gathered at the Hazza Bin Sayed Stadium, in order to watch al-Ain, the local team, hosting El-Jaish from Qatar, in the Asian Champions League semi-finals first leg.

And what a night it was. Al-Ain's star and captain - Omar Amoory Abdulrahman - inspired his friends through a magnificent first half with a superb assist and a perfect free kick, making it 2-0 by the break. The Qatari team, who qualified largely thanks to Al-Nasr's forfeiture of a place in the Wanderley fake passport saga, swiped a goal in the second half through Uzbek midfielder Sardor Rashidov.

But at the stroke of the 90th minute came another assist from Amoory, this time to Caio, and the Brazilian nailed the third for Al-Ain, completing a perfect night for the Emiratis.  

Amoory's sterling display reminded fans around the world why he is counted by many as the planet's best player outside Europe. It was a tremendous show by the big-haired superstar from Al-Ain.

On the same evening, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya from Iraq hosted Lebanon's Al-Ahed in the other leg of the AFC Cup Semifinals.

The match took place at Al-Wakrah, in Qatar, due to the fragile situation in Iraq.  

In front of an embarrassing number of fans - just 189 made it through the turnstiles - the Iraqi Air Force club took the lead and seemed dominant in the first half. Zahir Al-Medani scored in the 34th minute, and smiles of optimism spread across the Iraqi players' faces.

But Al-Ahed weren't going to give up without a fight. The Hizballah-oriented club opened the second half with huge pressure on the hosts' goal, and gained the equaliser in the 62th minute with a strike from defender Hussein Dakik.

Al-Ahed almost got a second in the dying minutes, but eventually the match concluded 1-1. A great result for Ahed, who will wait for the second leg in Beirut to see if they will be the first Lebanese club in the competition's final since 2008.

Over the weekend, Lebanese football was making headlines again. The country's famous Beirut derby, Nejmeh against Ansar, kicked off on Friday. With around 13,000 fans in the Camille Chamoun Stadium, and another 500,000 watching on TV, the tiny nation of Lebanon had gone football-crazy.

The match kicked off with a nervy display on both sides, but in the 29th minute, Nejmeh won a penalty.

Khaled Al-Takhaji produced a poor shot which was easily stopped by Ansar goalie, Mognieh. Nejmeh's fans were far from impressed - yet continued with their euphonious cheering. As the clock hit the 42nd minute, Ansar took the lead with a decisive counterattack; Mahmoud Kojok scoring from close range after a rebound, sending his team into the half time break with a 1-0 lead.

The second half was pure Lebanese drama. The game turned into a fast-paced thriller, with chances from both sides flowing. As the clock ticked down, the intensity stepped up.

In the 89th minute, Ansar won a dramatic penalty after a foul on the Ivorian, Remi. But what was supposed to be the winning shot was missed by Rabih Ataya, who was left devastated. And in the 94th minute, deep into injury time, Nejmeh's hero, Akram Moghrabi, scored a belter from inside the box, setting Nejmeh's stands on fire.

The derby concluded in a 1-1 tie, but Beirut's football fans were just starting their party.

Women in Amman

Meanhile in Jordan, history was being made, as the Under 17 Women's World Cup - the first female world cup to be played in the Middle East - kicked off. The Jordanian hosts played Spain on Friday, losing 6-0. But despite their poor opener, two of the Neshamat players made some inspiring history: Tasneem Abu Rob and Rand Albustanji became the first players to wear hijab on an official FIFA world tournament.

Read more: Jordan kicks off U17 Women's World Cup

The main talk among Palestine's soccer watchers this week has been the Human Rights Watch report which called for the ban of Israel from FIFA - due to the activity of five settlement clubs.

The Palestinian FA is hoping the report will influence the forthcoming FIFA council, and will open up discussion for the exclusion of Israel from the organisation. Observers say such a thing is highly unlikely, but only time will tell.

While the West Bank's Dauri Almuhtarifin went on a short break due to the national team friendly against Tajikistan, Gaza's Dauri Al-Mumtaz first matchday got underway, featuring the Khan Younis derby as the main event.

Shabab and Khidamat tied 2-2, while Shabab Rafah won 2-0 against Ittihad Khan Younis, and Al-Sadaqa hammered Ittihad Shujaiya 4-0. The fever pitch rivalry between the clubs of Rafah and Khan Younis will be a marker of this season.

Finally, in Sudan, Al-Hilal Omdurman, one of the most respected and highly decorated clubs in the Arab world won its 29th domestic championship, after a 4-1 victory over Amal Atbara.

During this past season, Al-Hilal has enjoyed the strongest attack in the Sudanese Premier League, with 83 goals, the best defence, conceding just 14 goals, and winning 83 points from 32 matches. A justified title, won with class.

The Continental domination of the Emiratis from Al-Ain, the emerging rise and shine of Lebanese football, the Middle Eastern sporting history taking place in Jordan, the Gaza league opening and Sudan, which won itself a perfect champion.

All in all, a quite remarkable week in Middle Eastern football.


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.