Spanish legend Xavi Hernandez retires: This week in Middle East football

Spanish legend Xavi Hernandez retires: This week in Middle East football
4 min read
23 May, 2019
This week Spanish football legend Xavi Hernandez said farewell to the game as a player, ending his first chapter with Qatar's Al-Sadd.
Persepolis hosted a ceremony for the retiring legend at the famous Azari Stadium. [Getty]
It's not every day that a legend hangs up their football boots. This week in Qatar Spanish football legend Xavi Hernandez said farewell to the game as a player, ending his first chapter with Al-Sadd.

As reported here two weeks ago, Xavi is likely to take a coaching role at his current club and his last efforts on the field for Al-Sadd were in the Amir Cup final and a Champions League match.

On Thursday night, Al-Duhail and Al-Sadd inaugurated the brand new Al-Wakrah Stadium. During the pre-game, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hammad al-Thani paid tribute to Zaha Hadid, the late British-Iraqi architect who designed the stadium.

Later that evening, he named the new World Cup venue as "Al-Janoub Stadium" (Stadium of the South).

Al-Janub is another 2022 World Cup venue to be completed. In a luxurious match between two of Qatari football's best teams, 40,000 fans filled the stadium and enjoyed the match.

In Xavi's last game on Qatari soil, Al-Sadd took the lead, first through Akram Afif, and it seemed that the new champions were heading for the double. But it did not end that way and Al-Duhail - who watched their rival's backs the whole season - decided to bite.

It is quite remarkable that Xavi started his career at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, and ended it at the Azadi stadium in Tehran

Ali Afif, Akram's brother and a former Al-Sadd star equalised with a great goal. Then the game heated up when Almoez Ali was sent off after he stepped on Baghdad Bounedjah.

In the second half, Al-Sadd lost Tareq Salman to a red card.

With both teams down to ten men, Duhail's Edmilson and Youssef El-Arabi took over. The Brazilian and the Moroccan scored three goals to make it 4-1 and Al-Sadd's players lost it before the final whistle as things got a bit tense.

The referee sent off Boundejah and Hamed Ismail from Al-Sadd, who finished the match with eight players. All players involved were later fined by the Qatari FA for their behaviour.

With over 70 assists in 4 seasons, Xavi definitely can be proud of his time in the Gulf. One thing is sure - he indeed had a thrilling goodbye party from his Qatari playing career.

Asian Champions League

Yet, it wasn't the final game for the short magician in Al-Sadd's uniform.

The Qatari giants went to Tehran for the last match of the Asian Champions League group stage. Persepolis hosted them and organised a civil ceremony for the retiring legend at the famous and symbolic Azari Stadium.

After he got flowers, a vase (!), a shirt and a heavy photo session, Xavi led his teammates for the last time, only to lose 2-0 to the Iranian champions, who earlier this week won the Persian Gulf Pro League.

It is quite remarkable that Xavi started his career at the Camp Nou, Barcelona, and ended it at the Azadi, Tehran. In even more of a coincidence, the last two official matches of this winning sportsman were losses. Despite the result, Al-Sadd continues to the next round and will meet… fellow countrymen, Al-Duhail, in the quarterfinals.

Al-Ahli Jeddah won against Uzbek side, Pakhtakor, 2-1 in an exciting match. The Uzbeks tied in the 88th minute through Igor Sergeev, but Abdulrahman Ghareeb nailed a winner, two minutes into stoppage time. Al-Ahli will face Al-Hilal, who drew 2-2 will Al-Duhail in the other match.

In other notable results, Ittihad Jeddah and Al-Wahdah from the UAE were drawn 1-1 in Tuesday, while Iraqi Al-Zawraa finished their Champions League adventures in style with a hammering 5-1 victory over Al-Wasl in Dubai.

The Asian Champions League is progressing to the knockout stage and already promising fascinating matches between Middle Eastern teams.

Local Glory

Across the region, the leagues were concluded, and new and old champions have been crowned.

In the UAE, Sharjah, who had an impressive and inspiring season, have finally taken the title after a long wait of 23 years.

The Saudi Pro League season ended in style with Al-Nassr beating Al-Batin 2-1 and winning their first title in five years.

A brace by Abderrazak Hamdallah, the Moroccan international who netted 33 goals in 26 games this season, nailed a brace which guaranteed the title for Al-Alami.

In Turkey, Galatasaray and Basaksehir met for a title-deciding match, which is also a small 'Istanbul Derby', one game before the league is over.

The allegedly government-backed Basaksehir had almost stolen the show when they went 1-0 up in the first half, but Algerian Sofiane Feghouli scored with a bicycle kick goal and Henry Onyekuro, the loanee from Everton, gave Gala its 22nd title ever and gave the thousands in the Türk Telekom Arena a great reason to celebrate.

While in Algeria there is a battle for the title between USM Algiers and JS Kabilye, in Syria, Al-Jaish, the Syrian Army club has won the title for the fifth time in a row - and the seventh time since the beginning of the civil war.

It's been almost 8 years since the horrific war struck in Syria, but there are some things which never change.

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.