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!
PART 1 includes moments #5, #4 and #3. Read it here
PART 2 includes moment #2. Read it here
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal had gone an entire 26 years without lifting the King’s Cup. Since their last triumph in the competition they racked six Asian trophies including two AFC Champions League wins. For all their successes over the past two decades, the king’s cup remained an elusive dream for the blue half of Riyadh. Al-Nassr were hardly doing any better, having lifted the coveted prize last in 1990. The ‘Nassrawis’ took special pride in being the first team to represent Asia in the Club World Cup in its first edition in 1998, courtesy of their victorious campaign in the 1997-98 Asian Cup Winners’ Cup.
All the above made it an extra special occasion for the two giants from the Saudi capital to lock horns in the final of the 2014/15 season’s very last domestic competition. The fact that the winning team would get the honour of being the first team to receive the trophy from the hands of the new monarch, King Salman, added to the flavour of what would turn to be an unforgettable encounter.
Al-Nassr came into the game as recently crowned league champions while Al-Hilal were still rebuilding after a less than impressive season under the departed Romanian coach Laurentiu Reghecampf which culminated in a devastating Champions League final loss to Western Sydney Wanderers. Reghecampf’s replacement, Giorgios Donis started with the basics, building a defensively strong unit based on an uncharacteristic 5-3-2 formation. Foreign duo Kwak Tae-Hwi and Digao formed one of the most solid centre back partnerships in the continent the prior season, and the switch to a five man defence meant there was space for an additional centre back to be filled. Foreigner spots were much needed in the front end so Donis set to recruit a local defender to strengthen the side and the decision was made to splash $2 million to sign 24 years old Mohammed Jahfali from minnows Al-Faisaly. The deal saw lots of scrutiny from fans and pundits alike, with some going as far as deeming it a waste of money.
Jahfali’s first introduction to the Riyadh derby was not a pleasant one by any measure. The young defender found himself embroiled in an off the ball quarrel with Al Nassr’s veteran left back Hussein Abdul Ghani ending with the former headbutting his opponent right before the eyes of Scottish referee John Beaton who instantly issued Jahfali his marching orders. To add insult to injury, Al-Hilal would go on to lose 1-0 and watch as their fiercest rivals celebrated their second league title in a row.
Three weeks later, the eternal rivals met in the season ending King’s Cup final. At the grandest of theatres, the Riyadh rivals played out a cagey encounter with neither team able to find the net in the 90 minutes. The sides went into extra time and Al Nassr wasted no time as their Polish midfielder Adrian Mierzejewski delivered a pinpoint cross from a corner kick into the area less than 90 seconds after the break. His cross was met by a towering header from the Saudi player of the season Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, leaving Al-Hilal’s goalkeeper with no chance of saving. Al-Nassr naturally retreated to defend their territory for the remainder of extra time as the blue waves advanced towards them. Donis put more men forward while Abdulghani & co stayed resilient in defence. All seemed to be going to plan literally up till the last minute. The blue pressure resulted in a corner kick after the other and in what was to be the last setpiece of the game, veteran Mohammed Al-Shalhoub exchanged short passes at the corner flag with Salman Al-Faraj before crossing into the far post. With no less than six blue shirts inside the opponent box, Bahraini international Mohammed Husain misjudged the flight of the ball allowing Kwak Tae-Hwi to head it back across from the far post. Right there was one man ready to channel all the pressures of media, fans and opponents. Ready to redeem himself from days and months of scrutiny. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Jahfali was there. The story was set in the script long before the young defender charged into the six yards box to net home the equalizer.
When you have delivered such a comeback, you certainly go into penalty kicks with a newfound confidence and as Al-Nassr put their more senior players to take the first few shootouts with faith their experience would see them through, both teams scored the first five kicks and it would all come to sudden death and no sooner than the seventh kick from the spot did Al-Nassr’s Sharahili succumb to the pressure to see his shot saved by his namesake Al-Hilal goalkeeper.
Jahfali 119:14 would go on to become music to the ears of the ‘Hilali’ fans and a heart-breaking moment all ‘Nassrawis’ wish just never happened. In many years, no matter what he goes on to achieve, chances are that scoring this late into the game to lift this precious trophy and celebrate in front of the king would certainly live to be one of the highlights of Jahfali’s career.
The euphoric Al-Hilal fan base helped #Jahfali (in Arabic) trend on Twitter alongside changing their usernames to (119:14).