Terrorists and giant-killers: Just another weekend in Middle-East football

Terrorists and giant-killers: Just another weekend in Middle-East football
Blog: Suspects arrested in car-bomb plot as Saudi rivals face off in pitched battle, while a Jerusalem derby match proves the city is as divided as ever.
4 min read
31 Oct, 2016
Saudi Arabia U19s lost 5-3 to Japan on penalties [Kyodo]

From Saudi Arabia to Palestine, East Jerusalem to Bahrain, the past weekend's Middle East football was as exciting as ever.

On Friday, the Saudi Arabia Clásico took place, culminating in a terrific battle between two of the country's top clubs - Ittihad Jeddah and Al Hilal. The King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh hosted more than 35,000 fans, and the Saudi FA invited a team of Turkish referees to manage the game.

The first half was intense, and ended with a worrying sign for the Tigers from Jeddah. Egyptian starlet Mahmoud Kaharaba picked up an injury, and was replaced by Sultan Madash. But in the second half, coach Sierra's players fought back, with goals from Ahmad Asiri and Abdulaziz Al-Aryani.

At the final whistle, the match ended 2-0 to the visitors from Jeddah.

Ittihad's main rival in Jeddah, Al-Ahli, also did well - on Saturday night knocking down Al-Khaleej
Club 4-1, with all four goals coming from Syrian powerhouse striker Mohamed al-Somah.

While the match was going on, the Saudi ministry of interior reported that local police forces had arrested four "terrorist" suspects.

Two Pakistanis, a Syrian and a Sudanese citizen, according to The National, were arrested over an alleged plot to attack the Al-Jawhara stadium during the match between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last month.

The four had reportedly planned a car bomb attack.

 "Targeting a football match between the UAE and Saudi Arabia is an indication of the level of the terrorists' hate," said Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

Over in the occupied Palestinian territories, Dauri Muhtarifin took an interesting turn at weekend. The two favourites to win the league - Hilal Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and Shabab Al-Khaleel (Hebron) - both lost points and began to tumble down the table in the race for the title.

Hilal were matched in Hebron against local side Al-Ahli, who enjoyed a great debut under new coach Ibrahim Abu-Rqiq. The Hebronites won 3-1, and nailed the Jeruslaemites' first loss this season.

Shabab Al-Khaleel hosted Al-Khader - finishing with a disappointing 0-0 draw, Shabab's fourth since the beginning of the season. The referee made two huge mistakes in the second half, cancelling out two goals for Shabab, after questionable offside decisions.

Shabab's Jordanian coach, Raed Assaf, reportedly wanted to resign after the match, but the club's sponsors and management convinced him to stay for another few games in a bid to turn their fortunes around.

The biggest winner in Palestinian footie this weekend was Thagafi Tulkarem, who thrashed Yatta 3-0 - sailing clear to the top of the table, without a single loss in six games.

On Saturday night, the Palestinian second division saw East Jerusalem's derby at Al-Khader Stadium.

More Middle East football from Uri Levy
- Winning home and away
- Pride and politics
- How did Arab teams fare in World Cup qualifiers?
- Derbies and defining history
- Arab football teams kick off dramatic start to season
- Tear gas and HIV-positive players
- Palestine Cup set for final showdown, despite Israel's foul-play

Jabel Mukaber played Al-Arabi Beit Safafa in what was a crunch match for al-Arabi, ranked bottom of the Ihtiraf Al-Jiz'i table.

But despite an aggressively fought match, only two opportunities to score emerged - both of which in the final twenty minutes. Both chances were taken, however, sealing the match result in a 1-1 tie. in the chaos that followed the final whistle, Jabel Mukaber fans threw bottles onto the pitch and confronted the Palestinian police. It is not just the Green Line that divides Jerusalem.

On the international level, the Under-19 Asian Championship in Bahrain saw a host of thrilling matches as the tournament reached its decisive stages.

At the first semi-final, Saudi Arabia faced off against Iran,  reflecting much of the current geopolitics of the region. This that ended in a superb 6-5 victory for the Saudis.

Neither team's defences impressed, as hinted by the scoreline. The Saudis met Japan in the final, but lost 5-3 on penalties following 120 minutes without a single goal.

Saudi Arabia's Sami Al Naji won the tournament's top scorer award with four goals, and added three assists to his logbook. Saudi Arabia and Iran both qualified for the Under 20 World Cup due to their successful tournament.

In the Arabian Gulf League, meanwhile, Serbian coach Jovanovich has been sacked by the Al-Nasr Dubai board, after their 5-1 defeat at the hands of Al-Wahda. Romanian Dan Petrescu has already been appointed his successor.
Al-Jazira had their second successful weekend on the bounce, with Ali Mabkhout scoring his second consecutive hat-trick for the club, helped them win 5-0 against Bani Yas.

The UAE national team striker is in an amazing form, and seemed unstoppable in attack. That's good news for Jazira fans, after the 26-year-old striker failed to score in several recent games.

A boiling Saudi Clásico, a foiled terror attack in Jeddah, favourites losing in Palestine, an East Jerusalem derby that ended with bottles and protests, young Iranians and Saudis who are going to the Mundialito - and one striker, who just can't stop scoring. 

A normal weekend in the world of Middle Eastern football.

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.