Transfers and tribulations: This week in Middle East football

Transfers and tribulations: This week in Middle East football
With the Arab world's footballing superstars in action in AFCON, there was no shortage of league action this week, writes Uri Levy.
4 min read
23 Jan, 2017
Lebanese superstar Abbas Atwi (white) was fired after a series of arguments [AFP]

The past week in Middle Eastern football offered us some silverware, a few big transfers, a couple of breakups, and of course, a fierce derby.

On Monday, Kuwait's Cup Final saw Al-Qadsia take on Kuwait Club at the Jaber al-Ahmad International Stadium.

The match itself didn't measure up to much, with a lacklustre 0-0 after 90 minutes. But as the teams lined up  for penalties, the tension started to rise. Both teams scored from their first and second shots from the spot, but Mohamed al-Fahed missed Al-Qadsiya's third. 

After another of Kuwait Club's found the inside of the net, Bader al-Matue scored again for Al-Qadsiya  - but Kuwait scored once more to win the cup 5-3.

It was Kuwait Club's first Crown Prince Cup in six years, an important landmark for one of the two most-titled teams in Kuwaiti football - Kuwait Club and al-Qadsiya hold more than 40 local titles between them.

On Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi's derby between Al-Jazira and Al-Wahda kicked off, with a match featuring former European stars and current Asian bigshots.

Al-Jazira has been enjoying a very successful season, with striker Ali Mabkhout in great shape. The team also just signed Brazilian winger, Leonardo, who won the Asian Champions League with Korean side Jeonbuk against Al-Ain just two months ago.

Al-Wahda, meanwhile, started with the Magyar sensation Balasz Dzsudzsák alongside Korea's Chang Woo-Rim.

The game started horrifically for Al-Wahda, with goalie Rashed Ali seeing the red card after only four minutes, setting the match on fire. After twenty minutes it was already 1-1.

Mabkhout put Al-Jazira ahead in the 17th minute, and Argentine Sebastian Tagliabúe equalised in the 20th. But th elead was held for only one minute, as Leonardo scored with what seemed an accidentally beautiful shot to put The Islanders one up once again.

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Ahmed Rashid and Dzsudzsák saw yellows, but nothing prepared Al-Wahda for the psychotic end of the half.

In the 41st minute Tagliabúe saw a red after a hard tackle on Leonardo. The Brazilian did not wait to score his second goal of the match, putting Al-Jazira 3-1 up.

If that wasn't enough, Al-Ghafer and Dzsudzsák argued with the referee and Al-Jazira players in the tunnel - and both saw yellow cards, sending the Hungarian off. With 45 minutes still to play, Al-Wahda were down to eight men.

Brazilian Ailton and Sultan Bergush concluded this aggressive and intense evening of football with a 5-1 win for Al-Jazira, who seem to be the best team in the Emirates at the moment.

Viva Palestina

After a long winter break, the Palestinian Leagues were back this weekend, in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Dhaharieh, who lost megastar Amed Maher to Jordanian club Al-Wehdat, lost to Shabab Balata at home 1-0.

Hebron's Shabab al-Khaleel finally won a match - their first since November - beating Taraji Wad Al-Nes 2-0.

Hilal Al-Kuds kept hold of the league's top spot with an easy 2-0 victory over poor Yatta, who are holding up the bottom of the table with a lowly five points from the season so far.

In Gaza, Al-Sadaqa played Ahli Gaza - and their fans continually demonstrated their support of Egyptian football idol Mohamed Aboutrika, after Cairo authorities jailed him as a "terrorist".

Al-Sadaqa won the match 1-0, keeping them first place in the Gaza league, three points above Shabab Rafah.

After almost a month without football, the Palestinian leagues are back - and the action has only just started.

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Atwi heartbreak

Lebanon's football hero, Abbas Atwi, was this week released by his club, Nejmeh.

After a series of clashes with club management, coach Jamal Haj and other players, the club ruled that Atwi needed to go - as he was not providing a good example for the younger players.

The decision did not go down well with fans, who protested and tried to interrupt the team's training session. Atwi is an iconic symbol for the Nejmeh fans, having playing for the club for the past 20 years.

Atwi joined Nejmeh in 1997, helping the club to six Lebanese championships, two Lebanese Cups, eight Elite Cups and six Lebanese Supercups. In addition, Atwi captained Nejmeh in the 2005 AFC Cup final. He has represented the Lebanese national team 84 times and is counted as one of the greatest ever players of Lebanese football.

An earthquake in Beirut it is then.

As we approach the transfer window deadline, a few important deals look set to shape the rest of the season across the region.

As we reported, Al-Ain (UAE) signed veteran Saudi striker Al-Shamrani from Saudi giants Al-Hilal. The blues from Riyadh also bought Syrian talisman Omar Khribin for six months with a reported salary of one million dollars.

Finally, Jordan's Al-Faisaly signed Serbian forward Dejan Babic, who becomes the first European footballer to play both in Israel and Jordan, after playing for second-division Israeli side Maccabi Yavne last season. A small piece of history in the region.


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