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Tear-gas and HIV-positive players: This week in Arab football Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Tear-gas and HIV-positive players: This week in Arab football

The 'game' in the Middle East is often implicated in politics [File photo: AFP]

Date of publication: 6 September, 2016

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The past week was a busy one for Middle Eastern football

The past week was a busy one for Middle Eastern football. As usual, football in the region is much more than just a ‘game’, as it always mixes internal and regional politics, sports, prestige and history. Our express tour throughout this week’s events will travel the region from Palestine to Iran and Egypt to Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. 

Last Friday (26.8.16), Palestine saw the Abu Ammar Cup semifinals taking place with the clashes between Hilal Al-Quds to Shabab Al-Khaleel at Al-Khader stadium, and Balata against Dhariah at Faisel Husseini International Stadium in A-Ram. Both matches concluded with a 1-1 tie and penalty kicks, which reigning champions Shabab Al-Khaleel and Dhariah won, turning the final into a true ‘Clasico Khalele’.

Despite the tight battles on the pitches, the real story was two gas bombs that have been shot by the IDF into the pitch in A-Ram during Dhariah versus Balata first half. A violent protest that took place at the neighbourhood next to the stadium was responded to with Israeli Forces using riot control equipment which, by the IDF’s spokesman “accidently slipped to the stadium that is just nearby”.

One fan was hurt after he inhaled the gas, and the match paused by the referee for 15 minutes, until the gas dissipated. Bizarre as that scene sounds and looks, this story has been kept quiet and wasn’t discussed at the major media agencies in the world.

The Palestinian FA is yet to hand an official complaint in neither FIFA nor COGAT.  This way or another, Palestinian football reality definitely suffers with the ongoing conflict and occupation.

In Lebanon, the Super Cup match between last season’s champions, Safa, and cup winners, Nejmeh, took place on Saturday the 27th of August in a very special venue. Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium finally hosted an official match. After over a year of an expensive renovation and arguments between the stadium’s owners and FA and clubs – a Beirut Derby between Safa, Beirut’s Druze community club, and Nejmeh, one of Lebanon’s top clubs.

Thousands of fans saw Nejmeh’s Akram Moghrabi hit two magnificent goals in the first half, leaving Safa, who lost last season’ star players for bigger clubs, disappointed and broken. Nejmeh grabbed its sixth Super Cup in club’s history, what encouraged a huge celebration of the ‘burgundy’ side of town.

Ittihad club released an official statement saying a new Cameroonian striker tested positive for HIV

One of the most controversial stories this week has come from Egypt. Four days after announcing the signing of the Cameroonian striker, Samuel Nlend, on a three-year deal, Ittihad Alexandria has terminated his contract. The club released an official statement that the player’s medical tests revealed positive for HIV.

The story became viral with many highlighting the sense of racism in the club’s acts towards the African player, hinting for the complicated relations between Northern Africans to sub-Saharan Africans. In response for the criticisms, Ittihad managers released Nlend’s medical test documents in order to prove them right, while the player and his former club, Union Douala from Cameroun, are set to file a complaint to FIFA against the Egyptians.

On the other hand, some rather optimistic news is coming from Yemen. Yemen Football association has announced its plans of re-opening the local football league in September after a two year hiatus, caused by the ongoing civil war in the country. The league intends to be played in forms of a group for each governorate, with the winner of each group qualifying to the final round.

On Thursday (1.9.2016), the 2018 World Cup Asian qualifications were played and produced few dramatic moments for the Middle Eastern national teams. In a high pace match the United Arab Emirates earned a lucrative 2-1 victory over the strong Japan in Saitama. Ahmed Khalil, 2015’s Asian Player of the Year, scored a magnificent brace for the UAE, securing important three points on the road of the ‘Whites’ to Russia.

Iran hosted Qatar at the Azadi Stadium. Team Melli enjoyed the support of 78,000 passionate Iranian fans, which filled the stadium and created an electric atmosphere

Despite the Syrian Tourism Office a new campaign inviting tourists to visit the country, Syria’s national team had a visit to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that did not ended well for the Qasioun Eagles. The Syrians, who were the  qualifications’ last stage’ surprise when displayed attractive and wild style of play, looked a bit rusty against the Uzbeks under the guidance of new coach Ayman Hakeem, and lost 1-0 from a late goal of the ex-USSR country.

The main event of the day took place in Tehran, where Iran hosted Qatar at the Azadi Stadium. Team Melli enjoyed the support of 78,000 passionate Iranian fans, which filled the stadium and created an electric atmosphere. It took Iran six shots to the target and ninety four minutes to break the Qatari goal.

The Qatari-French goalkeeper Lecomte-Addani committed two huge mistakes that Iran’ stars, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, took advantage of and scored. The goals were the signal for a green, red and white celebration in the stands.

Saudi Arabia gained a hard victory after struggling with a combative Thai side, at the King Fahed Stadium in Riyadh, and Iraq lost to Asian Champions, Australia, 2-0 in Perth.

Gas bombs in the middle of the field in Palestine, the Lebanese Super Cup, a HIV scandal in Egypt, football’s comeback to war-torn Yemen and World Cup qualifications which produced some spectacular matches - It was a busy week indeed, in the Middle Eastern football.

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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