Our weekly review will attempt to give you the lowdown on every single football league in the Middle East weekly. We didn’t want it to be a very simplified article, which means it goes to around 5000 words. To accommodate reading for you, we have hyperlinks for each league to make it easier for you to navigate through the article.
Game of the Week
Al-Jazira 3-2 Al-Wahda
Imagine your brother scoring a screamer in the 95th minute to hand your crosstown rivals in the win in a derby match after just coming back from a 2-0 scoreline in the space of 15 minutes? Well, that was what Emirati legend Ismael Matar had to endure as his lesser-known brother Yaser took the spotlight for once with a winner for Al-Jazira.
Complete domination for Al-Jazira at the start saw strike partners Ali Mabkhout and Mirko Vucinic bag their first goals of the season, but – understandably – Al-Jazira faltered and Ali Khaseif handed Al-Wahda the first gift as he mistakenly blundered Sebastian Tagliablue’s long shot into goal with less than 20 minutes on the clock.Al-Jazira did not stop there in terms of gifts before the Eid break in the Middle East, with a penalty kick given in injury time. Sebastian Tagliablue was the man again, scoring under immense pressure to equalise the proceedings. Yaser Matar had ruined the day for all Wahdawis, unfortunately.
Rest of the Games
Perhaps unfairly, Al-Shaab have been suffering in the Arabian Gulf League with their 3rd loss on the trot against Emirates of the Ras Al-Khaimah emirate in the UAE. Tarek Al-Ashry, who brought in fellow Egyptian Amro Al-Soulaya (apparently, Soulaya was eagerly wanted by Al-Ahly Cairo this summer) to strengthen the midfield this season. It is safe to say that the signing has started off dreadfully despite scoring a goal in this game, with the Commandos struggling to create clear cut chances for their vibrant attackers Michel Laurent N’dri and Matias Donoso (who has also started off with nothing to note in terms of attacking impact).
The game ended 2-1 to the Ras Al-Khaimah-based side via goals from Colombian import Wilmar Jordan and Brett Holman’s replacement for the time being, Mohammad Mallalah. The latter is an experienced yet technically lacking attacking midfielder who supports his teammates quite well, and knows the ins and outs of lower league football.
But it was Fujairah who took the spotlight with a 3-3 draw against Baniyas. As Ali Zeinnedine puts it “If Fujairah had better defenders and a decent goalkeeper, they would challenge for the Champions League places!” and he is certainly correct. The 8-1 drubbing at Al-Ahli in the opening week of the season was no indicator of their actual quality, and we predicted them to finish 9th as they still need to strengthen in the required areas to push into the top half of the table.
Hassan Maatouk a revelation once again, scoring alongside the slow starter Christophe Mandanne and the nimble attacking midfielder, Khalil Khameis. Baniyas on the other hand had hit man Joaquin Larrivey score a hat-trick, the second of those this season.
The Bur Dubai Derby between Al-Nasr and Al-Wasl disappointed, with the former scoring two goals through dynamic wingers Pitroipa and Kembo-Ekoko, who both were stars for their teams (Al-Jazira and Al-Ain, respectively) last season, can be considered rejects. They partnered Luis Jimenez (an Al-Ahli reject) in a “reject” trio just behind the front line, where they combined to create mayhem for the Al-Wasl defence.
Luis Jimenez has scored 4 goals in 3 games, while both wingers scored their first goals of the season in the 2-0 win over Dubai rivals Al-Wasl who looked lackluster despite the return of Caio Canedo. Isolation of Al-Wasl’s full backs were key to the Blue Wave’s win. Not bad for a team who had signed “rejects” at the start of the season.
However the biggest disappointment of the season is AGL Champions Al-Ain’s fans, who came up against Sharjah. 1,897, the worst ever attendance at the Hazza Bin Zayed stadium, was the disappointing number that AGL never wished to see. No one really cares about the AGL anymore, or is this a case of something else? A whole book can be written about that, so let’s leave it for later.
Ryan Babel and Rashed Essa linked up excellently to score and assist each others’ goals, before Renato Caja added in a very late consolation for the King who seem destined for a relegation battle. Babel finally answered his critics, who have been pestering him since his dire pre-season form.
Props to Dibba manager Theo Bucker who set up his team to nullify the threat of Jo and co. of Al-Shabab, who should have won the game had it not been their very poor finishing. That is what they usually say, but Essa Abdulla of Al-Shabab missed an absolutely golden chance that skimmed past the post to the shock of the Green fans. But the belief, tactical organisation and resilience instilled into the Dibba team has been immense since their start to the AGL this season.
We end with Rodrigo Lima, who has now successfully scored in every single game for Al-Ahli since his arrival to the club in the summer. Asian Champions League, Arabian Gulf Cup, Arabian Gulf League – it doesn’t matter to Lima. He will just score. New signing Moussa Sow needs to be have it handed to him though, with his addition in the second half proving vital to Al-Ahli’s 2-1 win over Al-Dhafra.He freed up space for Lima, drawing defenders out and taking them on before playing in the final pass to the attackers ahead. Al-Dhafra meanwhile, looked dire without options in attack. David Barral and Makhete Diop haven’t been the fastest duo on the counter attack and Al-Dhafra will need more runners from midfield to alleviate the attacking burden on the front 2. Young Hamad Raqe’ can be an option for that as he showed in the match against Al-Ain. Tactically, Banide needs to add a few more aspects in the attacking sense to help Al-Dhafra stay up. They have had a tough start to the season (3 losses: against Al-Ain, Al-Nasr, Al-Ahli).
ALL goals for Week 3 done by our friends at @AGGoals:
Written by Hamoudi Fayad
Round 2 of the Qatar Stars League culminated on Saturday with all 14 teams playing for the first time and bringing 20 goals. Here is a round-up of all the action starting with our Game of the Week – Al Sadd v Umm Salal, where Xavi Hernandez was the star of the show as expected.
Game of the Week
Al-Sadd 2-2 Umm Salal
Al-Sadd took to the pitch for their first home match of the season on Thursday, keen to show that they were up for the title challenge by beating Umm Salal, who were undoubtedly much better opposition than Mesaimeer who they beat 4-0 in Round 1. Things however, did not go according to plan for Hussein Amouta’s men.
Yannick Sagbo, fresh from a starring role in Umm Salal’s opening day win over Al-Khor, gave the lead to the Barzan Falcons in the 14th minute, when he headed in a Rami Fayez cross. It was goal that came against the run of play; Al-Sadd had dominated the game without much result and were stunned by Sagbo’s leap and finish.
For the rest of the first half, the Wolves of Al-Sadd attempted to get a goal of their own but they were toothless in attack, even with Xavi pulling the strings. Striker Muriqui, who had scored a hattrick in Round 1, was nowhere to be seen. The first half ended with Umm Salal’s one-goal lead intact and Al-Sadd went into the tunnel looking to regroup.
In the second half, Al-Sadd put further pressure on the Umm Salal goal and their efforts bore fruit in a remarkable 4 minute spell. First, in the 62nd minute, Xavi popped up in the box to finish off Hassan al-Haydos’ cross to mark his home debut with his first official goal for Al-Sadd. Three minutes later, the Catalan maestro turned provider when he lobbed the ball over the defence for the onrushing Musab Khodr to chest and finish past Baba Malik. Replays showed that Musab was offside but the goal stood.
Rest of the Games
Al-Wakrah 1 – 2 Al-Ahli
Defending champions Lekhwiya began their QSL campaign with a 3-1 home win over Qatar SC. Their star-studded lineup were shaken by a Mohammed Omar strike in the 30th minute but recovered to equalise ten minutes later through a Youssef Msakni penalty. Lekhwiya had the upper hand during most of the game. Qatar had a couple of chances, which they failed to convert leaving Lekhwiya substitute Vladimir Weiss to give his team with lead with a superb volley than finished off Ismaeel Mohammed’s cross. Deep into injury time, Msakni put the cherry on the cake with a fine individual goal that saw him take on four defenders and slot the ball past Qatar keeper Mohammed Mubarak.
Al-Arabi 1-0 Al-Khor
Game of the Week
Perspolis 1-2 Saipa
After two wins for Perspolis in the Persian Gulf Pro League and the Hazfi Cup, the fans expected Perspolis to achieve another win in home, and put all of the pressure behind. This however did not occur, as Perspolis lost the game to Saipa, partly to the players’ inexperience and also to the referee’s horrendous decision making.
Persepolis started the game well, and in a half that most of the opportunities were for the Reds, Saipa’s defender and goalkeeper both tried to stop Mehdi Taremi and gave away a penalty for Perspolis. At this time Persepolis’s fans were extremely happy that Mehdi Taremi who had shown that he could score penalties, was standing behind the ball. But when his shot slowly rolled into Fallahzadeh’s hands, and the goalkeeper caught the ball without breaking a sweat, Perspolis fans got worried once again.It was De Ja Vu all over again, a penalty for Perspolis and an opportunity to get ahead, but a poor shot from the spot and the game remained 0-0. The first half ended, and the second half opened with Perspolis’s fans expecting the players to play the game more offensively and try to score. The Reds, however, sat back and tried to defend as if they were content with the 0-0 draw. And in the middle of the second half, the most controversial scene of the game occurred, where Saipa’s player shot the ball against Ramin Rezaeian’s head in the penalty area, and the referee count the incident as a hand ball, resulting in a penalty for Saipa. This extremely wrong decision was questioned by the experts, and even outraged Persepolis’s players and fans of the referee. Wrong decisions had already changed many of Persepolis’s results this season, and had made the fans way more sensitive towards them. Reza Norouzi, an Ex-Perspolis striker stood behind the ball and scored the penalty to make the game 1-0 for Saipa. It was then that Perspolis started to go forward, but they did it so carelessly that a huge gap was created in their midfield and defensive area. Mehdi Torabi, Saipa and Team Melli’s young, smart, and fast winger, saw the gap, and as soon as he got hold of the ball, he ran through Perspolis’s defense and passed the ball back to Gholamreza Rezaei, another Ex-Perspolis striker, who chipped the ball over Sosha’s hands and Umaña’s feet. The game was now 2-0 and the Perspolis fans were outraged with both their players and the referee. Persepolis’s attacks started to get more oriented after they conceded the second goal, but neither Taremi’s bicycle kicks went in, nor Farshad Ahmadzadeh’s horrendous attempt to power the ball into the net in an incredible one on one opportunity.
After this, Perspolis fans, who are known as one of Iran’s most passionate, and most populated throughout Asia, started to leave the Azadi stadium. It was the 90th minute and Perspolis was 2-0 behind against a much weaker opposition, so the fans were disappointed. But at least to consult the remaining fans, Taremi won another penalty in the 90th minute and this time powered the penalty kick past Fallahzadeh who dived the right way but couldn’t reach Taremi’s powerful shot.
Rest of the Games
Sepahan and Tractor Sazi drew 0-0 in a game that both sides were incredibly wasteful with their opportunities.
Foolad lost 0-3 to Zob Ahan at home, with all of the goals coming from the defenders; Hadi Mohammadi, Mohammad Nejadmehdi, and Mehrdad Ghanbari. Foolad still remains in the 16th position, at the bottom of the table, where many think it is a place where they don’t belong.
Rah Ahan lost 0-1 to Malavan at home as well, with Arash Afshin scoring the lone goal. And while Malavan won the game, many believe that they should’ve won 2-0, as the referee mistakenly called their 2nd goal offside. This loss for Rah Ahan, caused their manager, Farhad Kazemi to be sacked a few days later, and be replaced with Mehdi Tartar.
Padideh Mashhad won 1-0 against Siah Jamegan in the Mashhad Derby, with Mehdi Kheiri Mir scoring Padideh’s winner.
Gostaresh Foolad lost 0-2 to Esteghlal Tehran, with Sajjad Shahbazzadeh and Seyed Mohsen Karimi scoring Esteghlal’s goals, in a game that the refereeing was questionable and also controversial, as Gostaresh’s fans believed the referee’s decisions were in favor of Esteghlal.Experts also believed that Gostaresh should’ve had a penalty. Esteghlal Khuzestan drew 1-1 against Ali Daei’s Saba Qom, with Farshad Janfaza scoring Esteghlal Khuzestan’s goal, and Mohammad Ghazi scoring Saba’s equalizer in the 96th minute.
Esteghlal Tehran also played Naft Tehran, in their postponed clash, and won 2-1. Milad Fakhrodini and Omid Ebrahimi scored Esteghlal’s goals, and Aloys Nong scored Naft’s lone goal. This game was also controversial, as experts suggested that Naft should’ve had a blatant penalty, and Alireza Beiranvand (Naft’s #1 goalkeeper, and Iran National Team’s second goalkeeper) was crossed out of the final squad list.
Game of the Week
Al-Nassr 2-0 Najran
Al-Nassr, the champions of the Saudi Arabian ALJ League for two consecutive times in the last two years, finally won in the third round after a disappointing start to the season by losing 4 points playing against Hajer and Al-Qadisiyah. In the third week only, playing against Najran who had one point from two games, did Al-Nassr secure the three points. Al-Nassr players and president, HRH prince Faisal bin Turki, confirmed several times that this drop in performance is due to the suspension of six players and the injury of others. Despite that, the team captain who was also suspended, Hussain Abdulghani, said on a televised interview that they have to win their match against Najran; and they did.
It was obvious from the beginning of the match against Najran, that Al-Nassr were determined to win and reconcile with the fans, the ten thousand spectators that were rooting for them on at the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium in Riyadh. With two superb strikers, Al-Sahlawi and Modibo Maiga – the new arrival from the English Premier League – and two skillful playmakers behind them, the Polish Adrian Meirzejewski and Yahia Al-Shehri, Al-Nassr could only see a win. After some pressure on Najran defense, Al-Nassr striker Maiga almost scored the first goal when he diverted a cross from Shaya Shraheali on the far post to the goal but Najran’s goal keeper, Abdulaziz Al-Tekrouni, was able to bravely save it. Few minutes later, Meirzejewski was able to cut a pass from the uneasy Najran’s players and pass it to Al-Sahlawi who passed it quickly to Al-Sheri. The defenders went to tackle Al-Shehri and cover Meirzejewski and Al-Sahlawi on the left side leaving Maiga unattained on the right side. Al-Shehri finally passed the ball to Maiga who was standing alone inside the box few meters from the goal keeper. Maiga sent a powerful shot to the other side of the goal keeper scoring the first goal of the match 36′.
The second goal came just five minutes after the kickoff of the second half from a free kick just outside the box. The foul was committed by Najran’s left back, Raed Al-Amri, when Al-Nassr right back, Khaled Al-Ghamdi, received a brilliant long pass from Meirzejewski and tried to run toward the goal but he was fouled few meters before entering the box. Adrian Meirzejewski took the free kick and sent the ball inside the box, but instead it reflected from Najran’s French central back, Mamadou Wague, to beat the goal keeper and hit the back of the net scoring the second goal 51′ for Al-Nassr. After the two goals, no real attempts threatened Al-Nassr goal keeper, Muteb Shraheali, most of them were either too easy for Al-Nassr defense and or just went wide. Al-Nassr, on the other hand, kept trying hard to seal the match, despite the fact that they already scored two goals. Head coach Jorge da Silva, in an attempt to add more energy on the front, pushed the famous Naif Hazazi and Youness Mokhtar coming from The Eredivisie – the top football division in the Netherlands – to the pitch.
The last ten minutes before full time was very exciting, Hazazi was all over the place trying to score the first goal for his new team. However, all of his attempts were either saved by the goal keeper or blocked by the defense. The match ended with only two goals for Al-Nassr and yet another defeat for Najran. This victory puts Al-Nassr back on the track and in sixth place in the ALJ League standings.
Written by Nasser Al-Beshri
Rest of the Games
Al-Hilal 1-0 Al-Raed
After returning from Asian Champions League action in Doha, Al-Hilal faced Al-Raed who became the first team this season to sack their manager, Abdulkader Al-Omrani, replacing him with the Greek Takis Lemonis.
Unfortunately that failed to yield any result from the game, but they did limit Al-Hilal to one of their worst performances of 2015 – under Donis – and that is saying something considering the form Al-Hilal were in since the Greek’s arrival (Donis, not Lemonis).
Carlos Eduardo was signed for a reason, and that is to provide the match winning performances that Al-Hilal need at desperate times. His brilliantly struck free-kick was enough to grant Al-Hilal three valuable points.
Al-Ittihad 1-2 Al-Faisaly
After continuous talk on the new look Al-Ittihad team under the guidance of Al-Balawi behind the scenes, they failed to provide anything of sort in their first home game of the season. 30,000+ fans attended making it the best attendance of the league season until now, but they certainly won’t be happy to see Al-Ittihad perform like this again.
Al-Faisaly replaced all of their foreigners – no, not their 2014/15 foreigners but foreigners they ACTUALLY signed this summer (terminating all of their contracts…) – to bring in Jordanian Hamza Al-Dardour and Togolese Sadat-Ouro Akoriko among others in bold moves that looked to shape up their bid to consolidate themselves in the league.
And Akoriko proved himself, starting off well with a goal before Fahad Al-Saqri scored a wonder goal to take Al-Faisaly into a shock lead. Al-Faisaly have been defeated twice in two games this season, to newly promoted Al-Qadisiyah and in-form Al-Taawon.
Al-Ittihad’s goal was nothing more than a consolation, and time will tell if this team can gel together in a very fast paced league. Before you know it, they’ll be out of the title race. Fans are already calling for Lazlo Boloni’s departure.
Al-Fateh 1-1 Hajer
The main talking point in this game is the beautiful free-kick of Elton, as he scored yet ANOTHER set-piece goal for former ALJ League Champions Al-Fateh. But that wasn’t enough to announce Al-Fateh as winners (they lost 3-0 to Al-Khaleej in the opening week after the appearance of Ali Al-Bleihi in that match caused them to forfeit the match; he was allegedly ineligible for the match) and help them return to challenging for honours.
Their full backs were caught out Mohammad Al-Saiari took advantage of silly positioning to guarantee Hajer a point.
Al-Ahli 1-0 Al-Wahda
Another team that finally played at home were Al-Ahli, now with 7 points but yet to concede despite the alleged retirement of goalkeeper Abdulla Al-Mayoof. They now extend their undefeated streak in the league to over a season (over 29 games at the time of writing) yet the league title has been far away from them since the 1990’s.
Here they grabbed a narrow, but vital, win over Mecca-based side Al-Wahda. The latter have been struggling as of late with the board asking fans to be patient towards a tough time ahead. Will the fans be content with the work being done at the club? Time will tell, with Al-Wahda slowly emerging as a relegation contender.
Al-Taawon 5-1 Al-Qadisiyah
“At this rate, they could be Asian Champions League contenders!” tweeted Othman Al-Twaijri. The Saudi football enthusiast claims that Al-Taawon will definitely challenge some of the bigger teams towards the later stages of this season as Portuguese manager Jose Manuel continues to guide them into a positive rise.
One of the top scorers in the league, Efoulou, and the best creative outlet in the Middle East after Omar Abdulrahman and Bader Al-Mutawa (statistically) is Syrian Jehad Al-Hussain. These guys partner up at Al-Taawon and have been key to their undefeated start to the season. They did so by smashing a very decent Al-Qadisiyah side.
One player to notice is Abdulmajeed Al-Ruwaili. The previous winger has been doing wonders as a makeshift central midfielder for Al-Taawon. Scoring the equaliser and being the focal point of attack throughout Al-Sukkuri’s 5-1 thrashing of Al-Qadisiyah was one of the many things he produced throughout the last month.
Al-Khaleej 0-0 Al-Shabab
Drab, just drab. Al-Shabab drew with one of the worst teams in the league and will have missed out on a valuable two points in their fight for the top four. With another challenger for the top four in Al-Taawon they will need to make sure they can earn maximum points off the smaller teams.
Best Goals of Week 3:
The Khalil Derby – Hebron, Palestine
Ahli Al-Khalil and Shabab Al-Khalil played out a tense game full of attacking intent, only to be halted by the goalkeepers Abu Salim and Shweiki. Shabab needed to bounce back after a disappointing draw in the first week of the West Bank Premier League against Shabab Al-Khadar.
Nevertheless, it came down to Shabab winger and substitute Bassam Armeleh to decide the proceedings seconds after coming on as an 86th minute substitute. Armeleh ruined Ahli’s dominance in the second half with a fantastic move from outside of the box confirming Shabab’s win and sending the fans into delirium. A magical way to replenish last week’s mistakes against Palestine Super Cup winners and fierce rivals Ahli Khalil.
Palestinian winger Nu’man helps Wehdat stay top – Amman, Jordan
Just before the Eid break, Wehdat welcomed the challenge of newly promoted Kufrsoum. A team with high expectations after returning to the league in place of Manshiyat Bani Hassan, their fans would not be surprised with a win. They sought a win.
The players showed that character too as they successfully nullified the threat of Hajj Malick and Abdulla Deeb’s movements and interchanges, with Malik Al-Yassiry leading the back 4 to a compact first half. This in turn led to the confidence of the midfield players who crept up to help the attacking duo with runs and an excess of high-quantity/low-quality shots, pressuring veteran goalkeeper Amer Shafie.
This however, failed to lead them to taking the lead, before a set-piece ruined their organisation. Ashraf Nu’man successfully assisted the excellent centre back Mohammad Al-Basha to scoring the only goal of the game. Al-Basha, who already had a good game, added a goal to add himself as a member in our inaugural Team of the Week.
“Al-Affiyah” Derby disappoints – Sur, Oman
Al-Orouba and Sur battled it out in front of a small attendance in the Oman Pro League to see a drab 0-0 draw further mount pressure on the champions Al-Orouba. The league itself is seeing virtually no fans attending (besides the brilliant fan base of Sohar) games, with complaints made daily towards the preposterous work of the Oman FA.
Midfield work from both teams failed to produce anything of note, with Al-Orouba locked on 5 points after 3 weeks and Sur a point behind. Both don’t want to fall behind in the title race as the weeks go by, which is currently led by Sohar on 7 points.
Mohammad Farhan claims that the refereeing team were unfair to his club, Amana Baghdad in their loss to Quwa Al-Jawiya which saw a 77th minute chip separate the sides. The feeling was different on the other side as Humam Tareq, who returned to the league from Al-Ahli Dubai, posed for pictures with a huge smile after the win. However in the other group…Another man came back, too. Yet this man was a figure in Iraqi football, one that saw one of the fights in the Iraqi national team a few weeks ago. Younis Mahmoud returned to Al-Talaba as they cruised to a 3-1 win over Kahraba, the former being his first professional club as a footballer. His return sparked lots of media attention in Iraq after the national team incident with Yaser Kasim.
Akhbari, Mohammadi, Ghanbari | Iran
Al-Basha | Jordan
Al-Ruwaili, Maiga | Saudi Arabia
Pitroipa, Babel, Larrivey | U.A.E
Xavi, Hamdallah | Qatar