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DOMESTIC WEEKLY REVIEW: September 11-14

Saudi Crown Prince Cup – Round of 16

The Saudi Crown Prince Cup – a trophy that has no meaning in terms of qualification to continental competitions – is an important cup, no doubt. Teams play with their first teamers, local and foreign, and they go all out to win the 32-team competition that includes teams from both divisions.

To note how important the competition is, unlike the other Gulf nations who played their second tier cups DURING the International break thus having to play with reserve teams and players, the fact that Saudi Arabian football went on a complete break to ensure that the competition returns in style and is not just a ‘nothing cup’.

All the big teams were still left and with Al-Hilal yet to play due to their Asian Champions League match this Tuesday, the other teams looked to cement their place in the next round with ease.

Big clubs ease through

Al-Ahli saw a quarter of goal scorers help them deny Hajer the chance of an upset at their own stadium. Omar Al-Soma wants to get back into last season’s form in the quickest time, doing so after an assist from Nabil Bahoui. Meanwhile Fetfatzidis added his name to the score sheet via a brilliantly struck goal that preceded a piece of fancy footwork.

Motaz Hawsawi and new signing Islam Hassan Seraj also scored to take Al-Ahli’s tally to 4 goals. Dragan Ceran’s late goal for Hajer, on the other hand, was nothing more than a consolation as Nemanja Tubic saw himself sent off for a challenge in injury time.

Modibo Maiga had the best debut possible, without question. He’s already adapted to the nippy movement, fantastic link-up and goalscoring traits of Al-Nassr getting a hat-trick to his name, also helping when needed (1 assist). His strike partner Mohammad Al-Sahlawi completed the 5-1 scoreline, as Al-Nahda waved goodbye to the competition.

Najran once again succumbed to the challenge of Asian giants Al-Ittihad, with Déjà vu on show as Wissam Wahib scored again for the former. Yet the centre of attention was on Mohammad Noor, the seasoned veteran who bagged a brace for the black and yellow to finish the game 2-1.

Naif Hazazi’s former club, Al-Shabab, defeated second-tier club Al-Shoulla in extra time; 2-1. New signing and Kuwaiti international Saif Al-Hashan – who brought in much of the attention on Middle Eastern football this season due to his controversial move from Qadsia (KUW) to Al-Shabab – opened the scoring, putting himself amongst the other signings with good performances on their debuts.

A lower league shock incoming?

Al-Ettifaq took a deep breath after Esmael Goncalves scored a penalty in extra time to see off the challenge of fellow second-tier team Al-Orubah, relegated from the ALJ League last season. After the new owners at the club arrived, also branding them as the ‘New Ettifaq’, things are looking bright for the former Asian Champions League contenders.

The rest 

Al-Qadisiyah and Al-Khaleej completed 7 out of the 8 spots for the quarter-finals with a hard win for the former, who have started the season off with resolute performances. Al-Wahda’s fans are starting to lose patience with the board (already) after their 4-2 loss to Al-Khaleej, with no wins to their name as of yet and a series of unlucky problems coming their way.

Arabian Gulf League

The Arabian Gulf League returned this week after a hiatus and change to the Arabian Gulf Cup, where we looked at results in the second tier competition that was played during the international break. The league returned in style, with Al-Ahli yet to play after they prepared for the incoming challenge of Naft Tehran in the Asian Champions League.

Game of the Week

Al-Wasl 0-2 Al-Ain 

Arguably the biggest game of the season and one that we covered live, 4,691 people turned up to watch the event that was moved from a Friday (weekend) night to a Sunday (work day) night. This change was the biggest factor in not seeing a full house as kids had school, adults had work and by the time you exited the stadium it would have been 11pm and possibly longer if you’re an away fan visiting from Al-Ain.

Al-Wasl, despite their win against Al-Jazira, are in a dire situation with no real power in terms of signings. Edgar has been atrocious in the absence of Caio, who has had trouble gaining an Asian nationality (which he finally has at the time of writing, Timor-Leste). Movement and support up front has been lacking for the Emperor who’s Fabio de Lima has struggled to impress on his own with no help to speak of.

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Fabio de Lima battled with Mohammad Fayez over the course of the game.

A resilient first half display was enough to set the Waslawis into an optimistic mood going into the second half, only for Emmanuel Emenike to tap in an early second half goal and send the Al-Ain fans into euphoria. Al-Wasl failed to impress after that, losing their defensive organisation and looking extremely disorientated in attack.

Enigmatic right back Yaser Salem failed to score his 3rd goal of the season in what looked to be a close call as he hit the side netting, but Al-Ain needn’t worry. Al-Wasl relied on crosses into Edgar – which are his strongest trait – and yet he failed to attempt a clean header on goal.

In defence of Edgar, his best trait is his creativity which saw him bring Carlos Villanueva, Luvannor and Nasser Masood into play with Al-Shabab last season, making him the joint-best goal creator in the league (9 assists). Yet there was no one to play off his flick ons and space creation, with Al-Wasl’s lack of runners centrally proving a big mistake from Calderon.

As that happened, Emenike took the pleasure of scoring a brace in his first derby game for Al-Ain, no doubt a night to remember for the player on loan from Fenerbahce. Al-Wasl fans asked for a goal and simply a goal, but after a series of dubious refereeing decisions towards both sides of the pitch and a succinct lack of character; Al-Ain saw the game out with relative ease.

Rest of the Games

What a way to ruin Valdivia’s debut, who actually went off to pull the middle finger towards the crowd at Al-Nahyan Stadium home to Al-Wahda. He claims it was a gesture towards his friends from Brazil in attendance and that it was a friendly and joke-filled gesture. That didn’t take away from his performance.

Valdivia

Valdivia finally dons the “Anabi” shirt.

A 9-man Al-Shabab team ruined his night as the latter made history and defeated Al-Wahda, 1-0, for the first time since 2005. The link up between Valdivia in Tagliablue was nonexistent and Al-Shabab’s usual tactically smart performances under Valdivia’s former manager Caio Junior was a breath of fresh air for the league in sweltering conditions.

Ishak Belfodil is an early contender for signing of the season as he helped Baniyas to a 3-0 win over predicted relegation battlers Dibba, with a brace. With Royston Drenthe incoming, Baniyas will have completed their squad and look to return to challenging for trophies. The signing of Mark Milligan has been a masterstroke who has been paired up with the best defensive midfielder in the region (Amer Abdulrahman).

Ishak Belfodil in Baniyas colours.

Ishak Belfodil in Baniyas colours.

Al-Nasr continued their winning streak in the league as Luis Jimenez grabbed his 4th goal in the space of two league games, making him top scorer of the competition at the time being. They defeated Al-Dhafra 3-1, where the latter were on the end of dubious refereeing decisions seeing two goals called off for offside.

But it was in Fujairah where happiness returned via none other than Hassan Maatouk who turned provider and instigated a 3-0 win over Al-Shaab alongside his teammate Patrick Friday Eze, who has linked up excellently with Maatouk since the 8-1 drubbing at Al-Ahli in the first week.

Al-Jazira survived a late scare from Sharjah as they cruised to a 2-1 win thanks to the production of Thiago Neves and Jefferson Farfan in the absence of Mirko Vucinic. Sharjah are in need of something huge to wake them up as unlike Al-Wasl, the King’s fans have completely deserted the stadiums.

Qatar Stars League

The latest edition of the Qatar Stars League kicked off on Friday with promoted Al-Rayyan marking their return to the top division by thrashing Al-Sailiya 4-0 in the opener, which was designated as our Game of the Week. Barcelona leged Xavi made his debut for Al-Sadd in their easy win over Mesaimeer. Four other games were also played in Round 1 with Al-Kharaitiyat, Al-Arabi and Umm Salal picking up their first three points. El-Jaish and Al-Ahli played out the lone draw of the round, while the Lekhwiya – Al Gharafa game was postponed due to Lekhwiya’s Champions League quarterfinal match in midweek.

Game of the Week

Al-Rayyan 4-0 Al Sailiya

Fallen giants Al-Rayyan started their long-awaited return to the top with a thumping 4-0 over Al-Sailiya in the opening match of the 2015/16 Qatar Stars League. Relegation in 2013/14 had marked the lowest ebb in The Lions’ history. Their absence from the QSL was hard-hitting and felt by everyone involved as attendances fell markedly. The return of Qatar’s most popular team will only help the league and the excitement and hype around their opening match is testament to it. And true to their hype, Al-Rayyan’s imports linked up with their old boys to make it worthwhile.

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Rayyan started the match brightly, but almost conceded a shock goal in the 7th minute itself, when former PGPL top scorer Edinho headed the ball into the net for Sailiya; however, the linesman had his flag up for offside although TV replays tended to show that the decision was wrong.

From then on, Rayyan made little to no mistakes at all as they proceeded to take control of the game. In the 15th minute, they took the lead when two new imports combined. Sergio Garcia’s ball into the area was poked into an empty net by Victor Caceres from close range, while under pressure from two defenders.  The Paraguayan thus became the first goalscorer of the 2015/16 season.

Rayyan doubled their advantage in the 33rd minute when another new signing, Sebastian Soria, connected with a Rodrigo Tabata freekick to score with a looping header. Sailiya keeper Gomis was to blame with his terrible positioning making it very easy for Soria.

Although, Sailiya improved in the second half, their fate was all but sealed when new Romanian defender Dragos Grigore was given his marching orders for a second yellow card. It made their task ever harder and Rayyan took advantage when Tabata found acres of space and time in the box to calmly finish past Gomis in the 67th minute.

Rayyan

Tabata was involved again when he fed substitute Mohammed Salah al Neel in stoppage time and the youngster netted Rayyan’s fourth and final goal with ease.

It was a rewarding experience for the 6000-odd Rayyan fans who had come to the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium to support the team. The stadium will now be the temporary home of Al-Rayyan, who will share the venue with Al-Sadd until their own Ahmed bin Ali Stadium is rebuilt for the 2022 World Cup.

The rest

It was a historic occasion for Xavi Hernandez as the former Barcelona maestro made his official debut for Al-Sadd in their Round 1 fixture against promoted Mesaimeer on Sunday. It was the first time that the Catalan was appearing for a club other than Barcelona and he made it one to remember when he assisted Lee Jung Soo to open the scoring in the 11th minute. A Muriqui hattrick completed the 4-0 rout for the reigning Emir Cup champions.

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Gianfranco Zola is yet another famous name in Doha this season and the new Al-Arabi manager enjoyed a winning start to his stint when the Dream Team eked out a 1-0 win over Al-Wakrah, who had dominated for most parts of the game. An own goal from Wakrah captain Ali Rehema decided the encounter. Al-Arabi played the final twenty minutes with ten men after Ashkan Dejagah was controversially sent off.

Umm Salal got off a fine start with a 2-0 win away to Al-Khor on the opening day. In the 10th minute, Khor keeper Baba Djibril was adjudged to have brought down Jeremie Aliadiere in the box. It was a rather dubious decision but Yannich Sagbo converted the resulting penalty nonetheless to give Umm Salal the lead. Sagbo turned provider for Aliadiere to get their second in the 77th with a superb strike that ensured all three points.

Al-Kharaitiyat have been tipped to struggle for survival this season but they showed no such signs in their opening 2-1 win at home to Qatar SC. The first half ended goalless but Kharaitiyat scored twice within the space of 6 minutes in the second half through Yahia Kebe and Mohammed Yasser. Qatar managed to get a quick reply via Ali Awad but failed to get the equalizer even after bringing on star striker Hamdi Harbaoui.

El Jaish and Al-Ahli battled to share the spoils in the only draw of Round 1 on Sunday in quite an exciting game played at the Abdulla bin Khalifa Stadium. New signing Sardor Rashidov started on the bench for Jaish although fellow striker Abdelrazaq Hamdallah made the first XI. The latter made it count when he strode through the Ahli defence and netted with a cool finish to make it 1-0 in the 39th minute. Ahli tried hard to find the equalizer and it duly came albeit through a Lucas Mendes own goal in the 66th minute.

Around the Region

#Jordan | Wehdat got themselves off to a perfect start in the opening of the Jordanian League, but not through anticipated Palestinian and new signing Ashraf Nu’man. It was the underrated Hajj Malick who scored 2 to deny newly promoted Al-Asalah any points.

#Oman | Croatian import Vedran Gerc helped Sohar defeat Sur in the opening game of the Oman Pro League via a brace of his own, with one goal coming from a penalty. Three of Sohar’s foreigners this season have come from the Jordanian League, with the others being Admir Malkic (Croatia) and Dan Ignat (Romania).

#Iraq | Al-Zawraa‘s KING Ultras were the topic of attention this week with a banner for Yaser Kasim also released on the opening day, where they defeated Al-Karkh 2-0 in Group 1. The format of the Iraq (Fuchs) Premier League is 20 teams divided into 2 groups, with a final group decided between the teams with the best points later on.

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