An international break: This week in Middle East football
International games took over the football season once again this week, and Middle Eastern national teams enjoyed some quality action in their continental qualifications and friendly games. From the Arabian Peninsula to the shores of Casablanca, there were some notable stories from across the region.
Turki Al-Sheikh can't stop himself. The leading Saudi football figure has invited Brazil and Argentina to a friendly tournament in Riyadh, under the extravagant name "the Superclásico in Saudi Arabia".
It includes the Iraqi national team, too, and yesterday the games kicked off with with Argentina playing against the Lions of Mesopotamia. Despite the excitement of the many Iraqi fans in the stands, the Argentines hammered Iraq 4-0, with debut goals by Lautaro Martinez, Roberto Pereyra, German Pezzella and Franco Cervi.
An emotional story took part before the game when Iraq's Bashar Resan was informed that his mother has passed away, just a few hours before kick-off. Resan still played the match, and was one of the most notable players for Iraq on the pitch.
Friday night has seen another chapter in Saudi Arabia's football progress. The Green Falcons held Brazil for two halves, but conceded twice on the verge of the referee's whistle - Gabriel Jesus just before half-time, and Alex Sandro in stoppage time, secured the victory for the Selecão.
Another emerging football nation in the region is Qatar, a team that keeps producing quality displays. Against Ecuador, the Qataris played fast and found the net four times, beating the South Americans 4-3 in an impressive display.
Akram Afif, Almoez Ali and Hassan al-Heidos have scored and gave a rare victory for the Qataris against a much better team.
It was a good practice before the 2019 Copa America in July, where the Middle East country will play as a guest nation.
The Jordanian national team is preparing for the 2019 Asian Cup and went to Elbasan, Albania for a friendly match. Vital Borkelmans, the Neshama’s new Belgian coach, gained a respectable 0-0 result on his debut, and the Jordanians are still dreaming of causing an upset at the Emirates in January.
In the past week and a half, the Palestine national team has participated in the Bangabandhu Cup in Bangladesh, competing with the local team, as well as Nepal and Tajikistan.
The Palestinians have beaten all the other participants in the tournament, and in the final managed to win on penalties against the Tajiks, thanks to an impressive display by Hilal al-Quds goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh, who stopped two decisive spot-kicks. This tournament is not a high-level preparation for Palestine before the Asian Cup, but the triumph was important for morale after a very difficult year for the Palestinian national team, since the "Baldivieso Saga". The Fida’i march on.
In front of just 10,000 fans in Haifa, Israel hosted Scotland for the European Nations League, for a game with minimum expectations.The locals arrived for this match after a year without victory. Scotland went up 1-0, after Charlie Mulgrew converted a penalty.
Israel played well and controlled the pace of the game. Interestingly enough, this Israel side was led by Moanes Dabbur, Bibars Natcho, Beram Kayal and Taleb Tawatha - all Arab Muslim players.
Later in the game, Israel equalised after an assist from Tawatha to Dor Peretz, and went on top with an own goal by Kieran Tierney, when Kayal's shot was deflected by the defender, and made it 2-1 for the home team. After years of failure, it seems that the new-look Israeli side is heading in a positive direction.
On the same evening, Egypt gained an important three points in their quest for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, with a 4-1 victory over Swaziland. Elmohamady, Warda and Trezeguet made it 3-0 after half an hour, and it was no other than Mohammed Salah to clinch another one on the 45th minute.
Algeria - with its new coach Djemal Belmadi - look safely on their way to the 2019 AFCON championship. Their 2-0 victory against Benin, with goals from Baghdad Bounedjah and Ramy Bensebaini, and means that they need only three more points in order to head to Cameroon in the summer for the continental championship.
Although their road to 2019 AFCON is quite safe, Morocco seriously struggled against the minnows of Comoros, who stood up well against the North African giants. Comoros launched dangerous counter-attacks during the game and fielded a goalkeeper who has no club. Coach Herve Renard has a lot to think about.
Tunisia has done exactly what was needed: to win against Niger at home, and get nine points out of three qualification games. With the absence of almost all the team's stars, a single goal from Yassin Meriah made the difference and the Carthage Eagles has a three-point gap from Egypt in the fight for the group's first spot.
Other notable scores from across the region: Turkey v Bosnia 0-0, UAE v Honduras 1-1, Bahrain v Syria 0-1, Kuwait v Lebanon 1-0, Nigeria v Libya 3-0