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Uri Levy

#NoBan4OurPlayers: This week in Middle East football

Masoud Shojaei [R] is one of two Iranian players who haved faced criticism [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 August, 2017

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While Iranian authorities mulled over whether two national team players deserved a lifetime ban, Western media outlets jumped the gun and delivered their own verdict.


Last week we reported here about the controversial saga of Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, the Iranian footballers at Greek side Panionios, who played against Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv during the Europa League third round qualifications.

As Shojaei is the Iranian national team captain, and Hajsafi is the opening defender, fans online began to speculate during the match over the duo's future in the national team, and local media began discussing the potential punishment the pair would face when coming back to Iran.

During the week the subject became an internal political issue in Iran and an international issue for FIFA and the Iranian Football Association. The IFA indicated, immediately after the game, that an investigation would be opened, but that a decision would only be made after a discussion with the two players.

In response, fans started a massive social media campaign under the hashtags #SaveShojaeiAndHajsafi and #NoBan4OurPlayers, in order to prevent the Iranian authorities taking any action against the duo. The fans asked the government and the IFA to keep politics off the football field and let the players remain in the national squad.

Local politicians, meanwhile, tried to exploit the story to attract public attention and called for the players to be banned for life. The deputy minister of sports and a couple of parliament members added their voices to the campaign. Western media outlets quickly fell for the trick and published that the players had been "banned for life".

 
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These reports couldn't have been in any way accurate, because an official decision in the matter had yet to be made.

And it's not a straight-forward decision. If Iran does decide to ban these players it could face a suspension from international football events, including the 2018 World Cup for which the team is already preparing.

According to reports from Iran late on Sunday, the public protest helped and the subject is being discussed - but the players will almost certainly not be banned. We will wait and see if Iranian football fans and the community will emerge victorious over the regime's agenda.

The case highlights the disinformation that runs between Iran and the West, on the pitch, in politics and also in the media.

Finally, Iraq's season is over

After a year-long season began in August, the Iraqi Premier League finally reached its final day. All eyes were focused on the game between Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya - the Air Force Club - and Al-Huddod. Al-Jawiya only needed one point in order to win the title for the first time since 2005 - but a brace from the local star Hammadi Ahmed secured victory and the title celebrations for air force blue club of Baghdad.

Al-Jawiya crowned a terrific run with this title, having won the Iraqi Cup in the 2015/16 season and the 2016 AFC Cup. With this terrific year, Al-Jawiya is poised to become the first Iraqi mega-club, as they also seem favourites to retain their AFC Cup title.

The past season in Iraq was unique, as the format of two divisions was changed into one league with 20 teams. At the beginning of the season the Kurdish club Erbil resigned from the competition after claiming that the Iraqi Football Association was not helping to diminish the Islamic State group's presence at the team's home games.

The league was reduced to 19 teams and 36 matchdays, as international football also returned to the country. All in all, the direction of Iraqi football and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya is highly positive.

Dazzling opening for Saudi league

The Middle East is slowly returning to its football routine after the summer break, and the Saudi Dawry Jameel is the first league to get back into action. The first matchday saw an unlikely opening from the Jeddah megaclubs - Ittihad and Al-Ahli - who both lost, to Al-Batin and Al-Ettifaq respectively.

While Al-Ahli lost 2-1 away from home after a great show from Hazzaa Al-Hazzaa, who scored twice, Ittihad hosted Al-Batin at home, and lost 3-1.

But the real surprise of the first matchday was Al-Taawoun. The club played Al-Fateh away and scored a remarkable 4-1 victory. The club also decided to treat the only fan that made the journey to watch the team at Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Sports City Stadium, in Al-Hasa, with 10,000 SAR ($2,666).

Jordanian Supercup

Jordan's Al-Faisaly had a wonderful summer. They won the Jordanian title, the Jordanian Cup, competed in the Arab Club Championship and a received a huge amount of support from the entire country after controversy in the final.

Last Friday they met Al-Jazeera for the Jordanian Super-cup. Polish striker Lukasz Gikiwiecz nailed a brace for 'A-Za'im', including a goal on the last minute of the extra time. Gikiewiecz is becoming a major factor at the King's club, and during his six months with the squad he has already won three titles and scored crucial goals for the club.

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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