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Arab football season: ready to kick start in full Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Arab football season: ready to kick start in full

Armed Lebanese police officers watch veteran German football star Jens Lehmann north of Beirut [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 September, 2016

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It is the beginning of the season in the Middle East, which means that football, politics and action are only warming up. Read this week’s tour throughout the region

It is the beginning of the season in the Middle East, which means that football, politics and action are only warming up. This week’s tour throughout the region will cross from Palestine to the Emirates, Oman and Lebanon.

On Monday (5.9.16) the city of Haifa hosted the European World Cup qualifier between the local national team and Italy. Haifa is a mixed city and has a large and dominant Arab population living. This, together with the fact that Jews and Arabs alike are passionate about Italian football, earned the Italians a great amount of local support.

At the game day, Italy flags decorated businesses and houses downtown, along with many fans dressed in Italian teams’ shirts. Despite a respectful effort and 
a fantastic display by the Palestinian-Israeli midfielder - Beram Kayal, the Italians knocked the home team 3-1. Aside from the game, the outbursts after match were interesting too.

Arab media figures and websites reported that Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s legendary goalkeeper, has shouted “Free Palestine” towards the Israeli crowd after the victory. The story became extremely viral on social media and attracted millions. If this wasn’t enough, the Israeli Football Association lodged an official complaint to the Italian Federation, after five Italian fans reportedly preformed Nazi salutes and booed during the hosts’ anthem.

When it comes to Israel and international sports – politics, unpleasant protests and social issues will almost always be part of the show.

As we have witnessed in previous months, when it comes to Israel and international sports – politics, unpleasant protests and social issues will almost always be part of the show.

On Tuesday (6.9.16), the Asian World Cup second matchday took place, and like last week, it was full of highlights.

After lost its first game to Australia last week, talented Iraq hosted Saudi Arabia at the Shah Alam Stadium in Selangor, Malaysia, due to the political and security tensions in the country. In a brilliant first half of Saad Abdulameer and Mohannad Abdulraheem, the Iraqis went to the dressing rooms leading by a one goal to nil.

Surprisingly, the match finalised with heartbreak for the Lions of Mesopotamia. Saudi star Nawaf Al-Abid scored two controversial penalties in the last ten minutes, and grabbed the victory for the Saudis. The Iraqi fans and media immediately blamed the Qatari referee, Khamis Al Marri, but the Iraqi coach, Radhi Shenaishil, concluded in the post-match: “We had the game in our own hands and we simply handed it to the Saudi team”.

Meanwhile, with two bad performances by all accounts and three successful penalties, the Saudis are with six points at the top of their group. Winners luck.

Iraq hosted Saudi Arabia at the Shah Alam Stadium in Selangor, Malaysia, due to the political and security tensions in the country

A disappointment wasn’t only Iraq’ share that day, as the United Arab Emirates hosted Australia at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in front of a record breaking attendance of 40,983 fans. Even with the three Abdulrahman brothers (Omar, Amer and Mohamed) together on the pitch, the Emiratis couldn’t match Socceroos’ quality.

Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil suffered a marginal day, while veteran Aussie star Tim Cahill scored on the 75th minute to grab important three points, leaving Amoory in tears.

Syria “hosted” South Korea at the Malaysian city of Seremban, gaining an impressive 0-0 tie with one of the strongest national teams in Asia. Iran travelled to China and grabbed an unimpressive 0-0 tie with the locals. They did better than Qatar, who lost another match, this time to Uzbekistan at home, 0-1, and looks like they will watch the 2018 Russia World Cup from home.

Oman had its Super Cup match played Thursday (8.9.16), before the forthcoming season. League’s champions Fanja SC lost to Cup winners Saham Club 1-0, from a late winner by Bader Al-Jabari.

Back in Palestine, the West Bank Super Cup went underway on Friday (9.9.16) at Dora International Stadium. A Hebronite Derby between cup winners, Al-Ahli Al-Khaleel, and reigning champions Shabab Al-Khaleel. The stadium, that saw only 350 fans showing up for the national team friendly against Tajikistan (1-1) on Tuesday, was half full with 7,500 attendance at the Super Cup match.

Back in Palestine, the West Bank Super Cup went underway on Friday at Dora International Stadium

After buying every available Palestinian star on the market during the summer, Shabab attacked with rage from the start. It wasn’t enough, as they suffered a red card in the beginning of the second half and conceded from Ahmed Harbi’s brilliant free-kick on the 72nd minute.

Ahmed Salem added another one in extra time relishing the celebration in red of the smaller team of the city. It was Ahli’s second consecutive West Bank Super Cup triumph, which joined six other trophies the club has won in the past two seasons. This team is the rising star of Palestine.

Lebanon enjoyed a special match on Saturday evening – the Game of Legends. Eight former European football stars played eight Lebanese former legends at the Fouad Chehab stadium in Jounieh. The local crowd enjoyed the likes of Luis Figo, Carles Puyol, and Roberto Carlos showing off their skills against local former stars.

David Trezeguet scored a hat-trick, while Lebanese Roda Antar voted for man of the match. 4-3 to the Internationals team at final whistle.

A controversial match in Haifa, heartbreaking losses for Iraq and the Emirates, world class stars in Lebanon and a small Hebron club wins everything in Palestine - as the World Cup qualifiers are now set for a month-long break and the various Super Cups are all over - the Arab football season is ready to kick start in full.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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