Talk of Cairo: This week in Middle East football

Talk of Cairo: This week in Middle East football
Egypt has taken centre stage in football, with Mo Salah continuing to increase his remarkable goal scoring tally while a new Egyptian star has angered Al-Ahly loyalists.
5 min read
22 Mar, 2018

Last week, we reported about Iraq's bid to bring international football back to the country, which since 1990 has been hit by a series of FIFA bans.

At a FIFA council meeting in Bogota, Colombia on Friday night, President Gianni Infantino declared that Iraq would be allowed to host official football matches in three cities - Erbil, Basra and Karbala.

The aftermath of the ruling was huge. Greetings from across the globe were published across all Iraqi media platforms.

The decision to lift the ban is being celebrated with a new friendly football tournament when Iraq will host Qatar and Syria for a triangular competition.

Iraq, one of the most football addict countries in the region, will be able to bring this passion back to its stadiums, this time officially and definitively.


So many words have been written about Mohamed Salah this season, but during the weekend the 25-year-old Egyptian has set a new benchmark in his career in England. The Egyptian sensation made a remarkable performance against Watford on Saturday, scoring a super hat-trick of four (!) goals and also provided an assist, in a fantastic Liverpool victory.

Salah is now leading the Premier League's top scorer with 28 goals, with only Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane coming close with 24 goals. An injury for the Spurs' striker means he is not expected to return until the beginning of April, which means Salah is pretty much guaranteed to be crowned the lead scorer in England this season.

It is also the highest number of goals any Egyptian or Arab footballer has scored in the Premier League. With this goal rate, the consensus among footballer commentators worldwide is that Salah will lead the European Golden Boot table too.

He has scored 36 goals in 41 matches in all competitions this season, a mind-blowing statistic. Salah's popularity is rising to new heights in Egypt, the Middle East and Europe. His haircut has become the most popular among Egyptian youth, and the clubs are all eyeing North Africa, chasing for the next Salah.

Back in the summer when he has just signed for the Merseyside club, many doubted his abilities to shine in Europe's top league. Now his name is already connected to Real Madrid, Barcelona and others. Liverpool will have a hard time keeping the Egyptian this summer.

Two sides of Cairo

Staying in Egypt, the national team's midfielder Abdallah Said is familiar to all African and Egyptian football followers as an "Ahlaway" (Al-Ahly person) by heart. In the past week, a story in Egyptian media that Said had signed for Zamalek caused major unrest among Al-Ahly fans, just a week after the club won its 40th championship title.

Zamalek's outgoing and controversial President Mortada Mansour has prevailed in the negotiation with the player who couldn't agree a new contract with the city rival, as he would become a free agent at the end of the season. Mansour posted a photo of Said with Zamalek representatives and a signed contract. With the Cairo rivalry known as one of the hottest in the world, Al-Ahly fans' reactions to the photo were furious and extreme.

Iran national team captain Masoud Shojaei has been banned. The reason? Playing against Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Said joined Al-Ahly from Ismaily in 2011, and since then he has become a major part of the Red Devils, winning championship titles and African trophies for the club. In his time with the Red Castle, Said became a club symbol and particularly after the retirement of Mohammed Aboutrika.

After weeks of speculation over his future, the Egypt international extended his Al-Ahly contract for two more years.

A few hours after his contract was renewed at Al-Ahly, the board announced they would begin negotiating a potential transfer for the player, whether a loan or permanent transfer to a foreign club. Al-Ahly did everything they could to keep the player away from their biggest rivals, and now will look to offload him elsewhere. Saudi Al-Ahli has been mentioned as an option for Said.

Ever wondered what a mega transfer saga in Egyptian football looks like? Abdallah Said's is exactly that.

Return of the captains

Following a huge saga last August, Iran captain Masoud Shojaei has been banned from the national team. The reason? The fact he played with his former club, Panionios of Greece, against Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Europa League qualification.

Shojaei, who has identified with the Iranian Green Movement, has been marked as a traitor by some Iranians, even though with him was another national team player, Ehsan Hajsafi, who has only been criticised by local politicians, but not banned from the team.

In the past week the scandal finally ended with Carlos Quieroz, the Portuguese coach of Team Melli, called Shojaei - who for the past months has played for AEK Athens - back to the national team for the friendlies against Algeria and Tunisia.

This story was accompanied by a surprising photo that popped up in social media. Injured Israeli football star Maor Buzaglo posted a photo of him together with another injured player - Ashkan Dejagah - another Iranian captain. 

In the caption Buzaglo wrote: "In football the rules are different and there is one language with no wars and prejudices. Iran national team captain and myself are proving that we can live otherwise."
c also commented on the photo: "Wish you a quick recovery, too, my friend."

The post went viral with Israeli and Iranian football fans exchanging warm wishes to each other, in a unique and rare occasion.



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