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Uri Levy

Let women watch: This week in Middle East football

The Arab Club Championship is in full swing [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 July, 2017

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Blog: The finals of the Arab Club Championship are almost here, while in Iran, the campaign to allow women enter sports stadiums takes a giant step forward, writes Uri Levy.
Just before the important journey to the Gaza Strip for the first leg of the Palestine Cup, Ahli Al-Khaleel and their coach, Ammar Salman, have parted ways.

Despite winning the West Bank Cup last season, Salman and Al-Ahli's board couldn't come to a financial agreement for the 2017-2018 season.

It comes at an uncomfortable time for the club, as the famous double-header known as the Palestine Cup is just around the corner.

On Tuesday, August 1, 17:00 Gaza time, Shabab Rafah will host the red devils from Hebron, who arrived without their Arab-Israeli players - denied access to the strip by Israeli authorities.

This is the third year in a row that the competition has taken place, and while the winner has previously gone on to represent Palestine in the AFC Cup qualifiers, the national cup's standing is this year not guaranteed. The Palestinian League's power-ranking in the Asian federation has dropped, and only the West Bank Premier League champions, Hilal Al-Quds, will participate in the continental club tournament this season.

Al-Ahli have made some huge signings this summer, among them the Mara'abeh brothers from Thagafi Tulkarem and Musab Al-Battat from Shabab Dhahariah. The interim coach is Vincenzo Alberto, a 32-year-old Italian promoted from youth team coach following Salman's sudden departure.

Ah-Ahli's board declared at the beginning of the summer that their goal for the forthcoming season was the West Bank championship title. Anything less will count as a failure.

Arab championship money time

The Arab Club Championship in Egypt has so far been a great success, and the group stage ended on Sunday with four teams qualifying for the semifinals. &nbsp

 
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Local club Al-Ahly (not to be confused with the Palestinian team of the same name), qualified as the highest-placed runners up, and will host Al-Faisaly, the Jordanian champions, who have set the group stage on fire, gaining nine points with a 100 percent success rate.

The club's Polish striker, Lukasz Gikiewicz, has been fantastic so far, scoring and assisting goals at Hashemite club.

Esperance de Tunis also finished the group stage with a run of three wins from three games, and will meet FUS Rabat from Morocco, who finished as the surprise winner of Group B - while Lebanon's Al-Ahed, Egyptian giants Zamalek and Saudi mega-club Al-Nassr, all fell by the wayside.

For Zamalek, the failure in the tournament is counted as a major blow, as the club took it very seriously.

Their loss to Al-Ahed was a decisive moment, after which coach Inacio parted ways with the club. Zamalek is now looking for a new manager, and owner Mortada Mansour is looking for a big name to take charge.

Read more: The Twitter tournament

So far the Twitter-based broadcasting of matched has worked well, without major faults or failures. The future is definitely exciting for sports fans when it comes to social network broadcasts, and the Arab Championship is an historic event in the internet world.

Despite streaming broadcasting success, the semi-final matches will be played on the same day at the same time - 20:00 Egypt time, on Wednesday, August 2 - in order to give winning teams the same amount of rest before the final on August 5.

Progress in Iran

Following in the footsteps of Masoud Shojaei, Iran national team captain, and Ali Karimi, the Iranian football legend and Naft Tehran coach, Farhad Majidi, Esteghlal Tehran's captain, has also demanded an end to the stadium ban on Iranian women.

The movement to allow Iranian women watch sports events from stadiums is growing in Iran.

Shojaei spoke out against the ban during a meeting with President Hasan Rouhani. Karimi, meanwhile, had been interviewed internationally about the ban. Now the captain of Esteghlal, the club most closely identified with the Iranian regime, has published a post on social media showing his support of Iranian women's struggle to watch matches.

This is another big step for the ever-growing protest, highlighting the contradictions between religion, law and tradition in the advanced but conservative nation. Iranian football stars are fully committed to changing the current situation and to see Iranian women gathering in the stands of the Azadi Stadium at the national team matches.

Time, and Khamenei, will tell.

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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