Derby day drama: This week in Middle East football

Derby day drama: This week in Middle East football
Derby day drama took over Amman and Casablanca this week, while an underwhelming clash between the Arabian Peninsula's two biggest clubs was overshadowed by a pitch-invading cat.
4 min read
15 Feb, 2018
Al-Jazira Abu Dhabi and Qatar's Al-Gharafa clashed in a thrilling game [AFP]

One of the trademarks of Middle Eastern football are the fierce derbies in the region's capital cities. Over the weekend, Amman and Casablanca were turned into theatres of drama, as both cities 

It started on Friday afternoon in Amman, where Al-Wehdat hosted champions Al-Faisaly for the Jordanian Clasico. Wehdat, a club that comes from the Palestinian refugee camp in the city's west side, represents the large Palestinian community in the capital and in Jordan in general. On the other side of the road there's Al-Faisaly. Al-Faisaly is the national club of Jordan. Being the most senior club in the country and supported by the royal family, A-Z'aim represent the patriotic Jordanian identity, in a country where the majority of the population is of Palestinian descent.

This season, Wehdat confidently leads the table, while Faisaly, last season's champions, are way behind in fourth place. The buzz before the match was huge, with the game having sold-out by Wednesday morning. Importantly, both sides didn't disappoint on the the matchday itself. What ended as a thrilling 2-2 saw a comeback by each side during the game.

On Saturday afternoon it was Casablanca's turn. Many see the Baidawy Derby as the best derby in Africa, holding it as a much more passionate rivalry than Cairo's showdown between Al-Ahly and Zamalek. In the past, Wydad Casablanca were one of the biggest clubs in Africa. The team won two Moroccan championships and an African Champions League, spurred on by the support their creative and terrific fan base. Raja, meanwhile, faced defeat in both local and continental competitions. It wasn't always like this, however, as the Green Eagles of Raja were once the best club in Morocco. Raja is widely known in Morocco as 'The People's Club,' while Wydad is seen as that of the elite.

On Saturday, flairs, thrilling choreography and great singing by both groups of fans decorated the Mohamed V Stadium when the two sides clashed. Raja's fans put up a serious display and encouraged their team to a 2-1 victory - their first derby win since 2016. With this win, Raja continued their title chase, as they are in 2nd place, while Wydad is experiencing one of their worst seasons ever, sitting in 16th spot.

The Asian Champions League returns

Asian competitions kicked off in style in the past week, combining great games, magnificent goals and a lot of Middle Eastern football action.

It started on Monday, when Lokomotiv Tashkent humiliated Emirati Al-Wahda 5-0, sailing to victory with an unbelievable goal. The football continued with a quality match between Al-Jazira Abu Dhabi and Qatari Al-Gharafa – the first match between a Qatari team and an Emirati/Saudi one since the Gulf crisis began in last summer. Elsewhere, Saudi club Al-Ahli defeated Iranian Zob Ahan 0-1 in a neutral ground in Oman. The Asian Football Confederation has declared that Saudi and Iranian teams must play each other at original home stadiums last month., Both countries' football associations, however, decided that neutral grounds would be for the best, as tensions between the countries could lead to trouble between fans.

The action continued on Tuesday, as Al-Rayyan hosted Esteghlal Tehran in Doha, in a thrilling 2-2 draw.

Menawhile in the AFC Cup, Lebanese Cup winners Ansar have drawn 1-1 with their Iraqi counterparts Al-Zawraa, thanks to this beauty goal by Alaa Al-Baba. Finally, the match that all Asian football fans were focusing on was the inauguration match of the new stadium in Riyadh – the 25,000 seat King Saud University Stadium, that hosted  Saudi Al-Hilal and Emirati Al-Ain. The two biggest clubs in the Arabian Peninsula failed to produce a quality match, as the most interesting event in the game was a pitch-invading cat, who supplied the fans of Al-Hilal arch-rivals – Al-Nassr – with endless comedy material that will undoubtedly last them until the end of the season.

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