Triumphs and tyranny: this week's Arab football action

Triumphs and tyranny: this week's Arab football action
5 min read
21 Nov, 2016
One of the most surprising moments in Arab football took place this week, when a rebellious Egyptian midfielder received a phone call from the army.
The clash for the Asian title saw some interesting twists and turns [Getty]

The World Cup qualifier games are over and Arab football returns with the Asian Champions League and the domestic leagues both kicking off.

The past weekend provided us with some terrific matches and interesting counter-points to look at in the region's football.

The main match this weekend was the AFC Champions League final first leg when South Korean Jeonbuk Htundai Motors hosted al-Ain from the UAE.

From the first touch of the ball it was an intense and fascinating match. The Jeonju World Cup Stadium was full, the crowd was ecstatic, and the game enjoyed a high pace with aggressive defending and intensity in the midfield.

While the first half concluded goaless, the second half turned into a real thriller. For reasons unknown, al-Ain's
Croatian coach, Zlatako Dalic, decided to play his biggest star, Omar Abdulrahman, as a false number 9.

The trick did not go down well, but Amoory - as expected from the best player in the world outside of European football - took charge. He took on three Korean defenders with a dribbling walk on the right side of the field, made a quick crossover, and left a brilliant ball to Colombian Danilo Asprilla. He scored a Asrpilla-esque half-volley golazo. 1-0 to Al-Ain, in front of 40,000 fans in the stands. 

Unfortunately for the Arab maestros of al-Ain, it was Amoory's last positive action in the match as he struggled in an awkward position. Jeonbuk, meanwhile, weren't giving up on the match.

Brazilian striker Leonardo scored a brace in seven minutes, including a beauty goal in a counter attack, and determined victory for his side. All eyes are on the second leg, which will be played at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in al-Ain on 26 November. It will be the biggest night in Amoory's career, and al-Ain will have the chance to win the title for the first time since 2003.

Domestic drama

Meanwhile, in the Middle East's domestic leagues more drama was unfolding.

Jordanian champions al-Wehdat played rivals al-Jazeera at the King Abdullah International Stadium on Friday. The team from one of the biggest Palestinian refugee camps in Amman,  usually is thrashes its opponents from the local league. But they have started the season in an unstable way, gaining only four points out of nine, and are placed sixth in the league.

Al-Jazeera scored first through Mardik Mardikian, the Syrian-Armenian left foot. Wehdat equalised with a goal from Croatian striker Sebastien Antic, but al-Jazeera's local boy Mohammed Tunus wrapped things up as the whistle was blown. Al-Jazeera went top of the table with a perfect balance of three victories in three games.

In neighbouring Palestine, surprising league leaders, Thagafi Tulkarem, hosted the title contenders from Jerusalem, Hilal al-Quds.

Ahmad Diab scored for the Jerusalemites, and it looked like Thagafi are about to concede their first loss of the season.

But in the 97th minute, Mohammed Yamin - the Palestinian national team's wonder kid - scored a belter from 18 meters to conclude the match with a 1-1 tie. The draw kept a three points difference between the two teams who take the lead positions in the league. 

Shabab al-Khalil free fall continues when the big favourites lost to Dhariah 2-1 in a Clásico Khalil (Hebron Derby). The match was held without both teams' fans due to a punishment by the FA for riots in the previous clash. 

Call up

Champions Safa played cup winners Nejmeh at the Camille Chamoun Stadium. The "Druze club" enjoyed a lovely team effort by Dominique Mendy and Omar Alkurdy in order to win 1-0. Nejmeh dropped to ninth spot, while Safa climbed to first place looking fresh and cool to protect their title.  

In Saudi Arabia, the Dawry Jameel league saw two important matches being played on Sunday evening. Ittihad Jeddah hosted al-Nassr and conceded their first loss of the season 0-1, after a goal by Paraguayan striker Victor Ayala.

Ittihad went down to fourth place and the team to benefit most from this was al-Hilal, who have beaten al-Raed 2-1.

The blues are with four victories out of the last five games, and after nine matches, three coaches and a number of problems, they are in pole position in the Saudi league.

Sunday evening saw one of the region's most famous and heated matches take place in Turkey - the Istanbul Derby: Fenerbahce versus Galatasaray.

For the first time since 2011, a league fixture between two of Istanbul's top clubs hosted both teams' fans, and what a match it was. Eight yellow cards, 40 fouls and 44,754 fans saw the flying Dutchman Robin Van Persie score twice for Fenerbache, and keeping the prestige at the Asian part of town.

It wouldn't be a true Middle Eastern football round-up without a bizarre moment thrown into the mix. After Cairo giants' Zamalek last won a victory over Tanta 1-0, the club's provocative chairman, Mortada Mansour, criticised the team's defensive midfielder Ahmed Tawfik.

The veteran midfielder wasn't keeping quiet, and answered on national television, saying that "Mansour has no respect for the players". He added that "at al-Ahly I don't see anyone treat players like that".

Mansour was furious with the last comment about the rival team and threatened "Tawfik will not play football ever again".

Not many took the argument seriously, until Tawfik received an immediate call-up for military service the next day, as top Egyptian football website reported. This story is far from ending, and we will update you next week on the progress of Tawfik's military missions.