History being made: This week in Middle East football

History being made: This week in Middle East football
The beautiful game returns to war-torn Aleppo, as Kuwait welcomed an Iraqi player for the first time in 30 years.
3 min read
08 Feb, 2017
Iran captain Andranik Teymourian will not yet be able to represent his new club [AFP]

War-torn Aleppo has this week hosted its first professional football match in five years.

At the end of December 2016, the Syrian League returned to action, and photos of packed stands went viral, showing thousands of fans cheering on their teams as they played on poorly maintained pitches amid bombed-out husks of buildings.

The first match in Aleppo was a derby between local rivals - Horriya versus Ittihad Aleppo. Ittihad came out on top with a 2-1 win, scoring the winner in the 92nd minute in front of a huge crowd.

Aleppo, once a flourishing economic centre boasting impressive historic sites, has been decimated during the war.

Gulf war wounds are healing

Another landmark event took place this week in Kuwait, when Ali Husni, the Iraqi Al-Minaa left winger, signed on loan for Kuwaiti side Al-Arabi. Coming on as a late substitute and setting up a goal in Al-Arabi's 1-1 draw with Al-Salmiya, Husni became the first Iraqi to play in Kuwait in 27 years - since the 1991 Gulf War.

Husni received a rapturous reception from his new team’s fans, despite the tensions that remain between Kuwait and Iraq since the aggressions of Saddam Hussein nearly thirty years ago.


Spot of bother in Tehran

Esteghlal Tehran, one of the two Persian mega-clubs, found itself in hot water last week when FIFA banned the club from signing players in the current transfer window.

The ban, issued by FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber, followed an unofficial payment from Estghlal to German midfielder Adil Chihi. The DRC also prohibited the club from fielding two players already signed in this window - Uzbek international Server Djeparov, and Iran national team captain, Andranik Teymourian.

The Blues are struggling in fourth place in the league, 13 points adrift of their city rivals, Persepolis, who sit atop the table. On top of their unsatisfactory league form, and this damaging player ban, the club awaits in-form Qatari side Al-Sadd in the Asian Champions League play-offs.

Broken hearts on the beach

On Saturday, the Lebanese league provided one of the most riveting games of the weekend, when Tripoli played host to Nejmeh in a seven-goal thriller.

Nejmeh led 1-0 at half time after a goal from Cofi. Then, early in the second half, the home side got their noses in front with a double from Shamsin and Ashia in the 49th and 52th minutes, making it 2-1 to Tripoli.

Nejmeh came back strongly when Hasan al-Mohamed and Nader Matar scored to make it 3-2 for the boys from Beirut.

Not to be swept aside, Abu Bakr al-Mal equalised for Tripoli from the penalty spot in the 91st minute - and that seemed to have settled a bonkers 3-3 draw in the beach-front city, but it wasn't over yet.

In the 94th minute, well in to added-on time, Mazen Jamal scored the winner for Nejmeh with a surface to air screamer from 20 metres out, and completed a heroic victory for the burgundy Beirutis.

The result opened up the table in Lebanon, putting Nejmeh into fourth place, five points off league leaders Ahed, in a tight race with Safa and Salam Zaghrta for the second spot.

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