Syrian League kicks-off: This week in Middle East football

Syrian League kicks-off: This week in Middle East football
While majority of football leagues are on a break this time of the year, in the Middle East many leagues are playing, and producing great games.
4 min read
26 Dec, 2016
Egyptian Mohamed Salah came in first as the best Arab footballer [Getty]
Syrian League kicks-off

There is one competition in particular that only kick started at the end of December – the Syrian Premier League. Due to the war in the country, the league has not taken place regularly and consistently in the past six months.

The league is now in a new format of 16 teams from all over the country, as a reflection of Bashar al-Assad regime's tremendous efforts of showing signs of "normal life".

Champions El-Jaish did not play over the weekend due to their participation in the Arab Club Championship, so all eyes were on the team from the war-torn city of Aleppo – Al-Ittihad.

The Halabi club is one of the most prestigious and famous clubs in Syria. The club was founded in 1949, and before the war, used to play at the International Stadium of Aleppo in the southern part of the city.

Due to the war, Ittihad hosted Foutoua at the Latakiya Sports City Stadium.

With the game itself, it all melted down to the last 15 minutes.

Mohamed Hazaa and Nasooh Nakadli scored for Ittihad, clinching the first three points for the season. Foutoua's Sulaiman Sulaiman scored a penalty in the 92nd minute, but it didn't help. Ittihad Aleppo, in an opposite manner from the city it represents, will definitely be a power club in the league this season.

"The players know we have a good team, but every game is tough in this league, and it will be a long journey... exactly like the journey of this country back to normality. Football is one of the keys for that," said Ittihad Aleppo's football director, Wael Akel.

Across the region

In Jordan, champions Al-Wehdat played city rival Shabab Al-Ordon. Al-Wehdat is chasing Al-Jazira and every point is important in their situation. It wasn't felt in the beginning as Shabab Al-Ordon went to 2-0 after eight minutes only, thanks to a brace by Mohamed Shishani. It took the Wehdaties a few minutes and by the end of the first half it was already 2-2, with goals by Khatab and Fattah.

The second half was an intense and nervous game, that finalised with a last minute goal by Al-Bashtawi, completing a perfect comeback for the Palestinian club of Jordan, now six points away from league leaders Al-Jazira.

It took some time into the season but now it looks final –Persepolis dominance in Iran is back. While the beginning of the season for the red club from Tehran wasn't too shining, their Friday match proved that the astonishing pace from last season hasn't disappeared.

Mashad arrived at the Azadi Stadium and after 12 minutes it was already 2-0 with Kamaybinia's and Reazaian's goals.

Coach Ivanovich players pressed their opponent high, and looked extremely confident. Terami scored and finished the job in the second half, Persepolis won 3-0 and went to top of the table two points clear from runners-up, Tractor Sazi. Welcome back Red Army!

In Saudi Arabia, Ittihad Jeddah can't get off the headlines. The club listed impressive attendance records, reaching one million fans who visited their stadium in 2016. There's some real passion in King Abdullah Stadium.

But despite the good news, the club's problems in the Court of Arbitration for Sports continue. The club failed to comply with CAS decision in the case with Argentinean player Damian Alejandro Manso, who sued the club for part of his contract.

FIFA already concluded that the club must pay the player, but due to the fact it didn't, the football world body deducted three points from Ittihad's pot.

By this deduction, Ittihad lost the first spot, and Al-Hilal Riyadh are back to the top of the table. Conclusion: Pay on time.

On Saturday, during a TV show in Qatar, the 2006 Asian Payer of the Year, Khalfan Ibrahim, donated $138,000 to Aleppo's children and those in need.

The donation was made during a nationwide campaign that raised $75 million from the public on live TV, in favour of organisations who are active in Aleppo. That shows some holiday spirit, in hopes that all this money will go for the people who really need it.

The preliminary round for the Arab Champions Cup continued this week. Lebanese side Al-Ahed rocked Bahraini Riffa in Beirut and already got a very interesting draw for the second round – Palestinian Shabab Al-Khaleel.

The first game is planned for January 5 in Amman, Jordan, due to the refusal of the Lebanese team to enter the West Bank. The second leg will be played in Beirut.

No Amoory, no party

The final point from this football week is the Dubai Globe Soccer event, which took place last weekend. In one of the categories, the best Arab footballer was chosen by votes.

Egyptian Mohamed Salah came in first as the best, while Algerian Riyad Mahrez was second and Mehdi Benattia was chosen in third place. But wait, you're choosing the three best Arab players and Omar Amoory Abdulrahman is not one of them? Sorry, I can't take this vote seriously then. See you in 2017.

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