Race to Russia: Region's World Cup Qualifiers this week

Race to Russia: Region's World Cup Qualifiers this week
The past days were full with 2018 World Cup qualifications clashes, involving the national teams from all over the region -North Africa, Asia and also Turkey
5 min read
16 Nov, 2016
Egypt beat Ghana in world cup qualifiers on Sunday [Anadolu]

The past days were full with 2018 World Cup qualifications clashes, involving the national teams from all over the region -North Africa, Asia and also Turkey. The race to Russia is on, and you can feel it all across the in the Middle East.  Here are some talking points from the main matches.


The North African mini derby took place in the 2018 World Cup qualifier. No surprises went down as Tunisia enjoyed its better quality of players to demolish the Libyan hosts. Tunisia will fight DR Congo for the desired spot.


Something bad is going on with the Algerian national team. From being the most promising team in Africa, they turned to a side that fights for its life in the World Cup qualifications. Algeria arrived in Uyo with one a mission- a victory – but got everything except one. 30,000 spectators watched Nigeria playing a better game at every level.

Victor Moses scored a cool brace, and veteran captain John Obi Mikel completed another brilliant performance for the national uniform with a goal. 3:1 for the Super Eagles at the final whistle, Algeria will have to fight for their life in next matches, hoping for a slip by the Nigerians who look very confident on their way to the World Cup.


An expected 2:0 win for the Turks in Antalya, but the main issue wasn’t football. The Turkish fans prevailed a huge patriotic and nationalistic anti-coup d’état banner, sharing their pride and support in current regime. Three points for Erdogan.


Nobody believed Israel could get a result in the hostile environment in Tirana. The match location was moved several times due to threats of IS attack on the visiting team. The Albanian police reportedly arrested four suspects before the match, and the Israeli national team was surrounded with heavy security from the moment they landed in country. Despite the security operation, the visitors scored three goals without an answer, and enjoyed two red cards that were shown towards Albanian players. It was not the end, as the Israel team’s plane had a mysterious hurdle, and the players were stuck at the Tirana airport for over 25 (!) hours. A sweet revenge by the flight inspectors? We would never know.

Morocco-Ivory Coast

One of the most promising match of this African qualification round finished with a dull and disappointing 0-0 tie.


Probably the hottest and most prestigious football encounter in the past weekend. Egypt, in a terrific form, hosted Ghana and its Israeli coach Avram Grant, at the shiny Borg El-Arab Stadium Alexandria, in front of reportedly more than 88,000 fans (while the official capacity of the stadium is 86,000 in case you’ve wondered). During the days before the match, it was reported that Egyptian Ultras groups threatened to hurt the Israeli coach when he enters Egypt, but eventually no hostile events took place. The coach himself described the visit and the hospitality of the Egyptian FA as “top class”. The match was a tight battle where Egypt was the first to sting and Ghana the first to blink. Mohammed Salah scored a penalty in late first half and Abdallah El-Said scored the winner ten minutes t the final whistle in the second half. Egypt is close to the world cup. Ghana’s coach concluded well while saying “Egypt is a great country to play football at. It was a terrific experience and atmosphere, but we need to work hard now.”

Japan -Saudi Arabia

A serious blow for the Saudis, who lost their first match in the qualifications. The stadium in Saitama was full and the Japanese crowd created a terrific stage for the encounter. Japan was given a false penalty right on the half time whistle and went up in one goal after the successful contribution by Kiyotake. The blue Samurais sealed the night with a goal by Haraguchi at the 80th minute. Omar Hawsawi scored one for the Saudis, but it was too little and simply too late. Four yellow cards, one red cards and a loss were the signs of unstable performance by the Al-Suqor Al-Khoder (the Green Falcons), who didn’t shake the hands of the officials at the end of the a match. 


In a match that looked more like mud wrestling, Syria and Iran finished in a 0:0 tie at the Seremban Stadium in Malaysia. Carlos Queiroz was furious with the AFC confirming the pitch for playing before the match, and he had all the good reasons for it. The match didn’t develop anywhere to a decent football match, except one header by Alireza Jahabakhsh late in the second half, that went centimeters near the right Syrian post. Iran goes up for the first place in their group.


The match between the most exciting player in Asia, Omar Amoory Abdulrahman, and the most romantic national team in the Middle East, Iraq, had concluded with a good fight and a 2-0 victory for the Emiratis. Ahmad Khalil scored with a terrific belter off the crossbar to give the White Knights the lead. Meanwhile, Mohannad Abduraheem missed a good chance for the Lions of Mesopotamia on the side. The second half was an enjoyable match to watch with plenty of chances for both sides. Eventually it was the UAE, who’s aiming to get the spot for Russia, with a goal by Ismael Mattar, after a knit pass by Ali Mabkhout.

Egypt goes up and Algeria lost height in Africa, Turkey is focusing on national unification through football, and only five games are left in the Asian qualifiers, which will determine which Middle Eastern teams will play at the World Cup.

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.