Winning home and away: Middle East football this week

Winning home and away: Middle East football this week
Arab clubs battled through the final stages of international cup clashes, while Egyptian club Zamalek were left disappointed despite a sterling performance by the players.
6 min read
24 Oct, 2016
Lebanese football is seeing a turn in fortunes [AFP]

The past week provided some decisive and exciting moments in Arab football, with disappointments, success and more goals. It saw a number of Arab clubs competing in continental finals, while Jordan and Bahrain hosted international football events with impressive organisation and efficiency.

On Wednesday, Lebanese club al-Ahed hosted Iraqi al-Quwa al-Jawiya (Air Force) in the AFC cup semi-final second leg, after a 1-1 tie in the first leg.

The Camille Chamoun Stadium was prepared for a festival in case Ahed won the game, and 3,700 fans were in attendance, ready to celebrate.

Ahed opened well and looked determined, taking the advantage twice in the first half. After 45 minutes they were 2-1 in the lead, and just a step away from a historical achievement for the club, and Lebanon.

Unfortunately for them, Rasan Bonyan and Hammadi Ahmad of the Iraqi Air Force club had different plans. Bonyan scored twice in the 70 and 76 minutes, before being sent off on in the eighty third.

Ahed players tried to attack but couldn't break the stubborn Iraqis' back-lines. Things appeared to get too much for the Ahed players who were crying and attacking the Iraqi defence simultaneously.

They couldn't score, and the match ended in a 3-2 victory for the Iraqi club. Ahed's progress on the Asian continental cup came after Lebanese clubs experiences years of mediocrity and a lack of success on an international level. The visual disappointment of the Ahed players when it became apparent they would not qualify for the finals, seemed authentic, passionate and real. Hard luck.

Iraqi heroes

On the other hand, al-Jawiya's players celebrated ecstatically, and the journey of the Rusafa-based club to the tournament's final was simply heroic. 

Due to the terrible security conditions in Iraq, the team plays its homes games at the Saoud bin Abdulrahman Stadium in Qatar, and has not played one match on Iraqi soil throughout the whole competition.

The story of a team from war-torn Iraq reaching the AFC Cup final has warmed the hearts of millions of footall fans, but is has also given pride to supporters at home, and the millions taking refuge outside the country.

An AFC Champions League semi-final clash took place later on that evening, when Qatari side el-Jaish hosted al-Ain from the UAE.

After an easy 3-1 victory for al-Ain in the first leg, their star player Omar "Amoory" Abdulrahman and his friends must have felt pretty confident that they would qualify easily. But it wasn't to be so easy for the Emiratis.

Amoory scored gave al-Ain the lead in the second half before El-Jaish and Romarinho made a comeback.

On the 95th minute, when El-Jaish attacked and looked for the extra-time, al-Ain's Mohammed Abdulrahman, Amoory's brother - scored and sent his teammates and brother to celebrate in complete madness - al-Ain is in the Asian Champions League final for the first time since 2005.

In Jordan, the Under-17 Women's World Cup came to an end on Friday, when the North Koreans won the tournament after a penalty shootouts against Japan, and became the first team to win the title twice.

Despite not achieving success on the pitch, the Jordanians received a series of greetings and compliments for hosting and organising the tournament. It was also the first time players had worn the hijab in an official FIFA tournament. Football is for everyone.

As that came to a close another international competition kicked off, when the AFC Under-19 Championship group stage took place in Bahrain.

Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Bahraini hosts all went through to the quarter-finals, and on Sunday, Saudi Arabia and Iraq clashed with the Gulf team winning the game to reach the semi-finals. Thanks to this victory, the Saudis also qualified for the Under-20 World Cup.

Local league

On the weekend, the Lebanese capital saw al-Ansar beat reigning champions Safa 4-3, in a serious thriller with some sketchy decisions by the referee.

Saudi Arabia's Dawry Jameel league saw al-Nassr beat the champions al-Ahli 1-0, which saw them overtake their rivals in the table to take a top four position. Giants al-Hilal crushed al-Khaleej 6-1 away from home. It seems like Hilal have taken a new turn with the arrival of Argentinian Ramon Angel Diaz who has taken charge of the Blues.

A more technical but no less exciting development was a decision by the AFC board to bar al-Ittihad Jeddah from competing in the AFC Champions League next season due to financial issues. It's a shame, as the Yellows have had an exciting season, and now Club Fateh will take their place.

In Iran, Esteghlal Tehran went back on track after a 2-0 victory against Saipa FC. The Crown club are now running six matches without a loss, putting them in 4th place, after a horrific start for the season.

Meanwhile in Palestine, Shabab al-Khaleel continued its unstable start of the season. The club continued its sinking with a 1-0 defeat to Balata and a goalless draw with Dora. The aspiring project of the champions from Hebron is are "lacking the glue" so far, as they chase Hilal al-Quds for the West Bank title.

Zamalek battle for Africa prize

It was pretty clear that after a 3-0 hammering to South African side Mamelodi Sundowns in the first-leg, Egyptian team Zamalek would struggle to get anything from the CAF Champions League final second-leg.

However, there were still glimpses of optimism in Egypt, as tens of thousands of fans bought tickets to the match at Borg al-Arab in Alexandria. On match day. 70,000 spectators filled the stadium to see Zamalek take on the Sundowns.

The White Knights fought hard, but goals weren't forthcoming in the first half. A goal came in the 64th minute after a nice solo effort from Stanley Ohawuchi, who dribbled past a player and sent a rocketing ball past the Sundowns' keeper - 1-0 Zamalek. From this moment there was only one team on the pitch, as the Egyptians pushed forward, in the hope of scoring two more goals.

Dangerous chances from Shikabala and Mayuka went away, and the match concluded with a 1-0 win for Zamalek, but a 3-1 victory to the Sundowns on aggregate. Thousands of Zamalek fans were left in tears in the stands, as their team would not be going to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup in December.

A club from war-torn Iraq in an Asian football final, international milestones for young footballers of the region, local leagues starting to get into shape, and a disappointment for the Egyptians in the African Champions League fina - there is rarely a dull moment in 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.