Welcome to our Weekly League Review where we look at all the domestic league football in the Middle East, with the main emphasis on the prominent nations in the region that include the U.A.E, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. We will choose an “Ahdaaf Player of the Week” at the end of each episode.
The Arabian Gulf League’s first week came to an end after a plethora of goals that were scored amongst all the matches. An average of 4 (!) goals per game topped the ALJ League in Saudi Arabia, which saw a very meagre goalscoring rate of 12 in 7 games compared to 28 in the AGL’s first week. We look at the games, the players, the goals and more. We also look at the effects of encryption towards attendances.
Game of the Week
Al-Jazira were tipped by most to return to title winning form under Abel Braga, but to lose it to a certainly rejuvenated Al-Wasl posed some questions to the Pride of Abu Dhabi, who played with a man down for almost 70 minutes. The attendance was embarrassing to start off with, as an opening week record-low for Al-Jazira saw 3,220 fans attend with reportedly more than 800 being Al-Wasl fans.
The problem was that Al-Wasl were missing goalkeeper Yousif Al-Zaabi – demanding a contract termination – and now permanent signing Caio Correa, however Hassan Ameen was among the astute performers against his former club Al-Jazira. Al-Wasl were organised, shrewd and no doubt the better team against a team filled with talent. Hugo Viana subsequently opened the scoring with a free-kick.
Al-Jazira then saw the sending off of Musallam Fayez for a rash challenge on Abdulla Saleh, before equalising through new signing Thiago Neves. Al-Wasl, though, were confident. Ali Salmin had the benefit of a pitch-wide view when his deflected pass reached the overlapping full back Yaser Salem, calmly chipping it over the former national team goalkeeper Ali Khaseif. Al-Wasl created chances however they weren’t able to fully execute as Edgar Bruno’s bicycle kick saw arguably their best chance.
Gabriel Calderon continued his streak of no losses to Abel Braga, as Al-Wasl look forward to their tough schedule. They face Al-Ain at home in the ‘Clasico’, before meeting Dubai rivals Al-Nasr and Al-Ahli consecutively in the space of late September. Meanwhile for Al-Jazira, questions will be asked. Vucinic, Farfan, Neves and Park performed at a poor standard.
Rest of the Games
Al-Ahli are arguably back to their best after an 8-1 drubbing of Fujairah in front of 3,600 fans. Watching it live myself, it largely had to do with the quality of Al-Ahli tormenting the Fujairah defence. Rodrigo Lima and Everton Ribeiro formed a wonderful partnership once again with 2 goals and 2 assists each, while Hassan Maatouk was the shining star of the lacklustre Fujairah team.
Dibba returned to the AGL in poor fashion despite getting the better of Al-Wahda in the first half, ultimately losing 4-0. A great sign for Al-Wahda whose youngsters Badr Al-Harthi, Mohammad Al-Akbari and Khaled Bawazir heavily impressed once again. A brace from Sebastian Tagliablue proved that the striker still oozes goals.
Baniyas limited Al-Shaab’s midfield quality in Amro Al-Soulaya with Mark Milligan, who was arguably their best performer despite goals from new boys Larrivey and Belfodil to help them to a 2-0 away win. Al-Shabab’s first half performance against Sharjah was memorable, with Villanueva and Luvannor clicking seamlessly once again. Jo failed to impact the game, however Renato Caja of Sharjah will be on to watch as Al-Shabab’s sneaky 2-1 win at home was definitely not an indicator of their supreme quality. We’ve tipped Sharjah for relegation, and with a defence that includes the red-card loving Shahin Abdulrahman, there is a possibility.
Champions Al-Ain convincingly defeated Al-Dhafra 3-1 with goals from Lee, Al-Kathiri and Rashed Essa as Hamad Raqe bagged a late consolation against his former club. In front of a dire attendance figure of nearly 3,000, one wonders where the Al-Ain fans have been as of late. Finally, Luis Jimenez scored a brace with the help of Mahmoud Khamis and Jires Kembo-Ekoko to help Al-Nasr overturn a 1-0 deficit against Emirates.
The ALJ League (“Dawry” means League in English) also began this week, with Super Cup and King Cup winners Al-Hilal taking the league by storm as they faced newly promoted Al-Wahda.
Game of the Week
This game was the best of a lacklustre week where we only saw 12 goals, but it’s not to take anything away from Al-Hilal who defeated Al-Wahda 2-0 courtesy of goals from the promising Kaabi and Ailton Almeida. Al-Braik, the player who created the second goal for Al-Hilal is also another promising player for the “Blue Wave”.
Yet it was Mohammad Al-Shalhoub, who created one of the goals and masterminded the other, who took the plaudits for the game with his intuition and tactical intelligence coming in handy against a team coming from the lower division who would have an emphasis on a 4-4-2 with man-marking across the pitch. This is what happened, and Al-Shalhoub committed himself to freeing up space for others – in these situations Kaabi and Al-Braik – to either score a long shot (Kaabi) or play in a powerful and accurate cross (Al-Braik).
Is it finally time for Al-Hilal to return to the top of the league? Let’s look at how the other teams fared.
Rest of the Games
Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr, both battling it out for the ALJ League title last season failed to produce anything of note as they faced Al-Taawon (the team that stopped Al-Ahli from winning the title last season) and Hajer respectively. Both games ended in drab 0-0 draws.
Meanwhile, it was newly promoted Al-Qadisiyah who took the plaudits as they defeated Liviu Ciobotariu’s Al-Faisaly, 1-0, in front of a modest 182 fans. Hector Omar, who has now scored a goal and an assist for Al-Qadisiyah has started off with no qualms and has no doubt been a factor for Al-Qadisiyah’s progression to the next round of the Crown Prince Cup and a valuable 3 points against Al-Faisaly. One player that should definitely be mentioned is Faisal Masrahi, who produced a reliable performance in goal that helped Al-Qadisiyah to the best possible start to the league season.
In a game with more than one fantastic goal, Rafinha scored a brace for Al-Shabab in front of an abysmal fan attendance of 895 against Al-Ra’ed, who failed to provide any significant threat to a team now looking to forget the loss of Naif Hazazi to Al-Nassr by bringing in Alvaro Gutierrez as manager alongside former Stoke City player Diego Arismendi amongst others. The third goal for Al-Shabab however, was deemed a handball by analysts on “Action Ya Dawry”. Al-Ra’ed would have definitely felt hard done by for failing to come back due to an incorrect decision. Al-Shabab 3-1 Al-Ra’ed.
Elton shone once again for Al-Fateh against subsequent 10-man team Al-Khaleej who saw the sending off of Al-Zawahiri give Elton the chance to grab a deserved brace, however it was only his free-kick (his 14th ever in the ALJ League!) that caught the eye of the ALJ League onlookers. New signing Josimar also added his contribution as he scored a debut goal, enough for former Saudi League Champions to see off Al-Khaleej, 2-0.
Finally, we analyse the new-look Ittihad who fended off the challenge of Najran with ease, despite a rocky end to the game. Gelmin Rivas scored his first league goal for “Itti” while Sulley Muntari played his first game in the black and yellow colours of Ittihad. The fourth foreigner spot for Ittihad has understandable confusion surrounding it, with Sanmartean taking his chance this game through a beautiful free-kick to open the goalscoring despite his future being in doubt at the club. Wahibi bagged a late consolation for Najran, however it was a mere consolation only. A comeback was put out with Ittihad looking composed at the end.
Game Of the Week
Yahya Golmohammadi took his Zob Ahan team to Azadi Stadium to face his former emlpoyees, Persepolis. Persepolis who have had a very disappointing start to the season, only 1 point from 3 games, were at the foot of the table. Their chances were boosted by the return of midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi and first choice goalkeeper, Sosha Makani.
Persepolis started the game on the front foot, creating chances from the early stages of the game. Their game plan was based around using the pace of Omid Alishah, Farshad Ahmadzadeh and Mehdi Taremi. The visitors looked unable to cope with the attacking threat of the Reds in early stages. Taremi had a golden opportunity to give his team the lead on the 20 minute mark as he took advantage of the confusion between the Zob Ahan centre backs, he took the ball around the goalkeeper but saw his shot go above the bar. 5 minutes before the interval, Ali Hamam’s back pass was intercepted by Ahmadzadeh who read the game brilliantly and was through one on one with the keeper, but Mazaheri pulled off a fantastic save at his feet as the Persepolis players were asking for a penalty for the incident.
2nd half started in the same manner, with Persepolis pressing for a goal which their performance had deserved. A long ball forward gave Persepolis their best chance to take the lead as Nejadmehdi pushed Taremi just as he tried to take control of the ball, and referee pointed to the penalty spot. Omid Alishah stepped up but saw his penalty saved fantastically by Mazaheri, though replays showed he was off his line a few steps before the penalty was taken but the referee failed to spot it. A few minutes later he was there to deny Alishah again as the Reds’ winger was through on goal but Mazaheri spread himself well to keep the scores level. They say Third Time’s a Charm, and Alishah proved it correct as he let fly from the edge of the box and his shot found its way in the corner of the Zob Ahan goal, Mazaheri was left flatfooted and deadlock was finally broken on 63rd minute. The stage was set for Alishah to double his team’s lead as Taremi pulled the ball across the goal but Mazaheri was there again to save Alishah’s sidefooted shot at point blank range.
Stadium fell to absolute silence as Zob Ahan, against the run of play, equalised. A cross into the centre of the 18 yard box from the left by veteran, Mehdi Rajabzadeh, saw Makani make the wrong decision to come off his line before Kaveh Rezaei headed the ball into an empty net. As everyone thought the game was heading for a draw, Morteza Tabrizi received the ball from the left, went past Rezaeian easily and as he pulled the ball back, it was blocked by a sliding Bengar but the referee pointed to the spot for a Zob Ahan Penalty. It turned out to be a very controversial decision as replays proved that the ball had in fact hit Bengar’s chest. Masoud Hassanzadeh took advantage of this refereeing mistake as he sent Makani the wrong way and gave Zob Ahan the winner.
Branko Ivankovic’s men, who felt victimised by poor officiating and now rooted to the table, would surely rue their countless scoring opportunities as questions will be raised over the performance of referee Alireza Faghani and his assistants. On the other hand, Zob Ahan will be very pleased to leave Tehran with 6 points from 2 very tough games as they hope to carry this on and continue in the form which they ended last season with.
Rest Of The Games
Padideh welcomed title challengers, Tractor Sazi, in Mashhad. Their resolute performance kept Tractor Sazi at bay as a single goal by Mohsen Yousefi gave them a 1-0 win in what can be considered as upset of the week.
Elsewhere in Ahvaz, Esteghlal Khuzestan battled to a great 1-0 win over 10-men Saipa as they climb up to 2nd in the table. Beyt Saeed was a star performer again while Seyfollahi scored the winner from the penalty spot.
Abdollah Karami scored for Sepahan against his former club, Foolad, as they played out a 1-1 draw in Isfahan. Sasan Ansari gave Foolad the lead initially before the Sepahan equaliser in 2nd half.
590 spectators at the Takhti Stadium in Tehran witnessed a goal festival as 6 were scored in a 3-3 draw between Naft Tehran and Malavan. Centre Back, Ezzatolah Pourghaz scored two after Arash Afshin’s opener for Malavan. Hosseini, Amiri and Bouazar got on the score sheet for Naft Tehran.
A 93rd minute winner from Meysam Majidi gave Esteghlal a hard earned 2-1 victory in Ahvaz against Esteghlal Ahvaz. Mohsen Karimi opened the scoring before Rikani equalised for Esteghlal Ahvaz with a sumptuous freekick.
Gostaresh recorded their first win of the season at home against Siah Jamegan, thanks to a first half winner from Dariush Shojaeian. This 1-0 defeat for Siah Jamegan forced Manager, Rasoul Khatibi, resigned from his role with his team dropping into the bottom two.
Mehrdad Mohammadi continued his fantastic form this season as he bagged all 3 points for Rah Ahan with a brace against Saba. Game ended 2-1 with Mohammad Ousani scored a consolation for Saba.
The Jordanian Super Cup was played between two Jordanian giants in Al-Wehdat and Al-Faisaly, where the latter scored a late winner to snatch their 15th Super Cup title, alongside 15,000 Jordanian Dinars to help with financial problems for the new season.
Fanja are new winners of the Omani Super Cup by default after the withdrawal of Omani Premier League Champions Al-Orouba, who claimed that the Oman FA have failed to give them their prize money dating back to the 2014-15 season, standing at 87,000 Omani Riyals. Fanja should have taken a stance too, because now the Omani Super Cup prize money will not be handed to them considering Al-Orouba are suffering from the broken promises of the OFA.
What a debut it was for Lima, who created two goals alongside scoring two goals against Fujairah, forming a prominent link with Everton Ribeiro; Al-Ahli’s best player. Lima has given the team hope, as what he offered to the Al-Ahli team was much more than goals. He played just off the striker, with brilliant movement towards the edge of the box throughout the game making him available for headers at the far post and crosses back inside. Is he the missing piece for Al-Ahli, one that will help them win the Asian Champions League?
Co-Written by Sina Saemian and Hamoudi Fayad