Elections and equalisers: This week in Middle East football

Elections and equalisers: This week in Middle East football
4 min read
21 Mar, 2017
A titan in African football was felled this week, as Ahmed Ahmed took over the presidency of the African Confederation of Football.
Ahmed is the new head of African football [Anadolu]

Before the whole region focuses on the 2018 World Cup qualification games - taking place this Thursday and next Tuesday - Middle Eastern football fans enjoyed a full week of attractive football action. It started with two Saudi-Emirati clashes in the Asian Champions League.

On Sunday, al-Ahli Jeddah hosted al-Ain - along with Emirati superstar Omar "Amoory" Abdulrahman - for a great match of football. Almost 24,000 spectators packed the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium and saw Aqil al-Sahbi score a 26th minute goal. The euphoria held for only two minutes as the former al-Hilal striker Nasser al-Shamrani finished decisively following an intelligent assist from Amoory. Greek midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis gave al-Ahli another goal at the beginning of the second half, but yet again - a few minutes later - al-Ain got a equaliser from Sahbi who put the ball in his own net. It was a quality battle in Jeddah that kept both teams in the top two spots in Group C.

On Monday, Emirati team al-Wahda hosted Saudi giants al-Hilal at a half-empty al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi with only 5,853 fans in attendence. Saudi midfielder Nawaf Al-Abid could have put al-Hilal in front after only five minutes, but Argentinean Sebastian Tagliabue and Hungarian magician Balasz Dzsudzak flipped the game in favour of al-Wahda. If that wasn't enough, Abid was sent-off after getting a second yellow card and left al-Hilal with only ten men on the pitch.

Was this the end of the story for the Blues? Guess again. Syrian sensation Omar Khribin - who was on al-Wahda's radar earlier this season but couldn't agree to the financial terms - got his personal payback and scored after a terrific counter-attack. A dramatic moment in Abu Dhabi in one of the most intense football matches of Asian Champions League this season so far, and the final score 2-2.

The Palestinian Dream: Ahmed Maher shines for al-Wehdat

Palestinian star Ahmed Maher started the season at his boyhood club Shabab Dhahariah in Hebron, and becoming top goalscorer in the West Bank Premier League. His form attracted the interest of Jordanian side al-Wehdat - which boasts a strong Palestinian following - and the Amman-based club signed Maher in January until the end of the season.

After a hesitant start in the club's AFC campaign, Maher scored a goal in al-Wehdat's 2-1 win against Omani side Saham. He scored another against Mansheyat in the Jordanian league, which ended Maher's week with a brace and an assist. Maher, who now wears the esteemed no. 9 shirt, is joining a respectable list of Palestinian footballers who have played for the club. Khaldun Fahed, Abdelatif al-Bahdari, Fadi Lafi, Zyad al-Kurd and Ashraf Nuaman have all been part of a Palestinian dream team at the Jordanian club and represented the national team, too. Now, Maher's name is among an illustrious list and should represent Palestine in future international campaigns.

End of an Era

Thursday was a historic day for African football. After 29 years of one-man-rule, the Confederation of African Football saw a new president when the Madagascan candidate Ahmed Ahmed beat the eternal governor of African football, Cameroon's Issa Hayatou.

The former president ruled the CAF from 1988 to 2017 in what many have concluded to be an ambivalent period. But despite his many achievements - increasing the number of African teams at the World Cup and bringing in extra finance for the continent's competitions - the CAF was dogged with allegations of bribery and corruption. Hayatou briefly acted as FIFA president in 2015 while Sepp Blatter, the president at the time, was under investigation for his own FIFA corruption charges.

But this long career at the helm of African football came to an end for Hayatou after Ahmed won the elections in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in a landslide. The Madagascan won 34 votes, while veteran Hayatou only managed to get 20.

The new 57-year-old president was a footballer and a coach before he became the head of Madagascar football federation in 2003. Ahmed's campaign bon-ton was "Change", and he laid out plans to fix African football's endless problems from the top down. Ahmed's aspiring road to one of the most important positions in world football gained support from across the continent, including North Africa. "I want to thank this general assembly who elected me as president… Let me also pay tribute to our President Issa Hayatou, and thank him for the good job he has done for African football," he said after being named winner.

In addition, the CAF executive committee also saw changes with new faces taking over several key positions. In the North Zone, Moroccan Fouzi Lekjaa toppled incumbent Mohammed Raouraoua of Algeria by 41 votes to seven.

African football, including its North African countries, is ready for change it seems. It is in need of change. Will Ahmed Ahmed provide it? Time will tell. And if not? This is Africa.

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.