The Biggest Moments of the Middle Eastern Football Season is in the name itself, a series looking at 5 of the biggest moments in the season. These may include continental, domestic and national team results, events or controversies. Due to this being our first year at Ahdaaf, we decided we would choose the moments as part of a vote from the Ahdaaf team. We hope you enjoy, and if you feel we’ve missed out on a moment, tweet us at @AhdaafME or comment at the end of the article!
How ironic for it to go head to head against the team that they finished one point above. Al-Shaab Club, known for their passionate fan base and developing the legendary Adnan Al-Talyani, have been mired in the relegation scene since 2008. A set of consecutive 5th placed finishes ensured their consolidation in the top league but the professional era clashed with their downfall and Al-Shaab have been struggling since.
Favourites for the UAE First Division title against contenders Dibba Al-Fujairah and Dubai CSC, a 1-0 win against the latter mid-season ensured their title as favourites and the team to beat. However, Komlan Amewou – suspended for the top of the table clash – was picked in Al-Shaab’s starting 11 by manager Eid Barout. It proved to be a huge mistake, overturning the result to a 3-0 forfeit in favour of Dubai and Al-Shaab back on level points, with Dibba now moving into the league table lead. The Appeal Committee decided against overruling their supposedly premature decision and Al-Shaab were dealt with a huge blow.
The big match-up arrived in the third to last week of the UAE First Division, with Al-Shaab two points behind their rivals – who were in 2nd, the final promotion spot. A 2-2 draw wasn’t enough and Al-Shaab had to rely on a slip-up from Dubai, where the other ‘Dibba’ club Dibba Al-Hisn came to the rescue and held Dubai to a 4-4 draw as Al-Shaab grabbed a vital three points in Sharjah. It all came down to the last day, where Al-Shaab were still able to win league had Dibba lost but were also prone to any set backs and fall out of the top two. Dibba comfortably beat Ras Al-Khaimah and were crowned champions, however it was in Masafi where the drama ensued.
Al-Shaab were being held by Masafi despite the whole stadium backing them up with a sell out from ‘Shaabawi’ – the nickname for the famous Al-Shaab fan base. Speaking to an Al-Shaab fan @Hamdan_danger, he confessed that he “didn’t think we would get promoted after Masafi scored”. Although, things changed, and it was another foreigner involved on this occasion, after a deflected ball fell onto the millimetre-onside goalscorer Michel Laurent D’ri who made no mistake and headed the ball in, to the raptures of the ‘Shaabawi’.
Things changed after that and “when Michel scored, the happiness in me could not be described”. When asked about the ambition of the club next season he said “we have foreigners of excellent level (Matias Donoso, Michel N’Dri, Celio Dos Santos) and young local players who can develop into very big players. A top 7 finish would show we are serious, along with a great cup showing”.
Another Al-Shaab fan gave me a day’s explanation on how crazy it was, that he even has a picture of a fan sitting on the top of his car on a hill to watch the game! @weldalzuhairi says “fans came to the game in numbers, even sitting in the Masafi stands despite it being one hour away from the home stadium of Al-Shaab”. But the loyalty shown on that day was far from the norm, as “it was the first game for many Shaabawi in years…”
Celebrations, though, were magnificent. “Al-Dhaid and Masafi roads were blocked and filled with Masafi fans, before returning to a lit up Khaled Bin Mohammad Stadium to cheer and sing in!”
Iraq’s celebrated 2007 Asian Cup goalkeeper is a man that doesn’t know when he’s beaten, dropped countless times as first choice keeper of the Iraqi national team, at the end of last year he found himself forced out of Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya after he agreed to work as an analyst for Abu Dhabi Sports TV channel during the 22nd Gulf Cup in Riyadh – while the Iraqi league fixtures were postponed for the tournament – but he left for Saudi Arabia without the approval of the club which according to the club’s administration caused them “great embarrassment”, an bewildering remark when you consider their own coach Nadhim Shaker was making ridiculous comments on rival channel Al-Dawri wa Al-Kass.
Replaced by young Fahad Talib as Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya’s first choice keeper, Nour requested to be released and on December 5, 2014 he agreed a shock transfer to newly promoted Naft Al-Wasat based in the holy city Al-Najaf.
He moved to the club despite zealous opposition from his own family who warned him that they could be relegated to the second division, and even after his first game against his former club Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, when they drew 0-0, the club president Sayed Faris Bahr Ullom went up to the goalkeeper and confessed that he feared the club could go down to the second tier but the Iraqi goalkeeper took his hand in his hand and told him that it was early days, and he was right as the club reached the final of the Iraqi league against his former club Al-Jawiya in his first season in the top flight.
It was one of the most eventful seasons in the goalkeeper’s career, moving to the lowly Naft Al-Wasat – and producing some of the best football of his career, that the media and football fans were calling for his recall to the national team.
Iraqi national coach Akram Salman had supposedly no idea where Nour Sabri was playing his club football while national goalkeeping coach Emad Hashim was caught up in a furore after he claimed the goalkeeper had altered his real age and then backtracked stating that he wanted to bring back Nour Sabri as a starter and not as a reserve to sit on the bench.
At the final at the packed Al-Shaab Stadium, Nour Sabri and his Naft Al-Wasat team-mates who the keeper described as a united team like the 2007 Asian Cup team were the ultimate underdogs who no one had given a chance of staying up, faced the team who had released the goalkeeper in the final. Predictably, the Iraqi League final went into extra-time – the fifth out of eight finals which had gone to penalties.
In steps the hero Nour Sabri – the calmest man in the stadium – who despite missing the penalty that would have won the title, the goalkeeper who had never lost a penalty shoot saved three penalties to win a first title for Naft Al-Wasat – a club only formed in 2008.
Written by Hassanin Mubarak
A shadow of his brother, Faisal, who was badly behaved off the pitch. I still remember, around 7-8 years ago when Ahmed Khalil burst onto the football scene. He wasn’t an Emirati superstar, he was an Asian one. His Cristiano-Ronaldo like free-kick stance seems a light year away, but the man is only (!) 24 years old today.
His inconsistency and the rise of Ali Mabkhout couldn’t have come at a worse time as his name on the pecking order has become more of a burden rather than a promising addition. Meanwhile on the club scene, Carlos Munoz was released by Al-Ahli Dubai and Grafite left to Al-Sadd. It was Ahmed Khalil or a younger Saeed Jassim to lead the line, the latter with little to no experience with the Red Knights (more on Jassim later).
Everton Ribeiro’s creativity was misused – Cosmin benched Everton Ribeiro in Asian games to allow Habib Fardan and Ahmed Khalil (both Emirati) to link up near the tip of the 4-2-3-1. Ribeiro, though, was too valuable to be missed out on and the Emirati partnership between Fardan and Khalil was inefficient, therefore Khalil was forced to show up and Ribeiro returned. Al-Ahli needed a win against Tractor at home in the 2015 Asian Champions League Group Stage (Final Gameweek), under no circumstances could they even out the proceedings after drawing blank in games against Nasaf Qarshi at home and Tractor Sazi at the Yadegar-e-Emam Stadium.
Iran’s large population in the UAE saw a fair amount turn up in the away stands albeit Tractor’s elimination from the ACL at this point, to total around 3,540 in attendance in the 9,415-seater stadium. Nevertheless, Tractor took the lead through Mehrdad Beyrami.
Al-Ahli equalised, through none other than Everton Ribeiro. However their constant defensive failures during the season saw Saman Nariman Jahan break through and leave Waleed Abbas – a usually reliable defensive option – dumbfounded. Al-Ahli were 2-1 down, needing a double to ensure their qualification into the last 16. Meanwhile, should they win, Al-Ain are their next opponents as they are cruising past Naft Tehran.
Ahmed Khalil came to the rescue, with an equaliser in minute 77. Saeed Jassim, now possessing the chance to become not club, but nationwide here. Here is what happened:
Have no fear, Ahmed Khalil is here! An 88th minute header and Al-Ahli are through along with the other Al-Ahli, of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. That isn’t the end of the Red Knights, who are heavy underdogs against Arabian Gulf League Champions Al-Ain…
I see the other side of Ahmed Khalil after years of watching his talent come through, and it is not a great image. Everton Ribeiro, further enhancing himself as a top class player is left alone. Skill after skill, pass after pass, yet Oussama Assaidi and Ahmed Khalil are nowhere to be seen. It ends 0-0 in Dubai, and I regret missing out on the match in Al-Ain.
Asamoah Gyan, who else? The second leg lights up in the first few minutes. This guy defined consistency, despite his injury-ridden season that saw him rack up less 20 appearances in domestic competition this season. Not so fast, once again, Ahmed Khalil is here! Salmeen Khamis evens the tie, at 1-1, before Ahmed Khalil inflicts more pain on the ‘Ainawi’ with a quick-fire double. Al-Ain return with two goals but it is extremely late to make it 4-3 on aggregate, and Al-Ahli are through on away goals to face Naft Tehran; thanks to Ahmed Khalil. From zero to hero, to zero and back to hero.