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Clash of the super-clubs: This week in Middle East football Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Clash of the super-clubs: This week in Middle East football

Al-Sadd's Abdelkarim Hassan and Persepolis Goodwin Mensha during the AFC Champions League [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 October, 2018

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Blog: Tehran's Persepolis and Doha's Al-Sadd vie for a spot in the Asian Champions League final, while a small Iraqi club tries to emulate Sevilla's success
The Middle East and African continental competitions are reaching their peak, and, as usual in the region, the games on the pitch only tell part of the story.

The Asian Champions League is at the regional zonal finals stage, which means that Middle Eastern football will soon find a representative to tale on the East Asian champions in the final.

This year, the zonal final is between two massive clubs, each loaded with stars and carrying huge fan bases - Qatar's Al-Sadd and Iran's Persepolis.

The first leg was played this week at the Jassim bin Hammad Stadium in Doha, and the outcome was a definite surprise.

Despite fielding ex-Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez, ex-Atletico Madrid captain Gabi and one of the best scorers in the world at the moment, Algeria's Baghdad Bounedjah, Al-Sadd on their home turf could not find a way to beat Persepolis.

Branko Ivankovic's boys from Iran produced an epic defensive display away from home, coping with every attack from the Qatari all-star team, and at just the right moment, they knew when to sting.

In the 86th minute, Ali Alipour started a run from deep inside his own half, taking Al-Sadd's defenders with him, but was fouled by Saad al-Sheeb, Al-Sadd's goalie.

Alipour took the penalty himself, converting it, and giving the visitors a 1-0 advantage. A full eight minutes of stoppage time could not change the score - Al-Sadd 0, Persepolis 1.

For the second leg, Al-Sadd will go to Tehran to play the Iranian champions in front of an estimated 100,000 passionate fans. Persepolis is one step away from their first ever Asian Champions League final, so the atmosphere at the Azadi stadium will be electrifying to say the least.  

The Asian Sevilla

The Spanish club Sevilla won fame for winning the Europa League, Europe's second-string club tournament, five times in the past decade. While the Spaniards became probably the most important power in medium-level European football, over in Iraq there is a club following in their footsteps.

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya is a true phenomenon. The oldest club in Iraqi football is on the rise. After winning the AFC Cup, Asia's equivalent of the Europa League, in 2015 and 2016, the club from the Rusafa suburb of Baghdad is running rampant.

Beating Al-Jazeera of Jordan in a double-header semi-final (0-1, then 3-1), the team recorded its third consecutive tournament final place.

Star player Hammadi Ahmed nailed a brace in the second leg, breaking down in tears at the end of the match, giving a glimpse of the importance of the achievement for the Iraqi squad.

The Iraqi football scene is one of the most unpredictable and unorganised in the world, and Al-Jawiya is making the most of it.

Together with a championship title in 2016 and an Iraqi FA Cup win in 2017, the club is planning on winning its fifth major title in just three years.


If that weren't enough, the final will be played at the Basra Sports City Stadium in Iraq - the first continental final to be played in the country in almost 30 years, after the return of international football to the country last year.

Iraq remains devastated by war, with a citizenry striving for normality amid the rubble and with militias on the rampage, not to mention the military intervention of several regional and global powers. Football might not solve any of these problems, but it definitely makes people feel better, even if just for a moment. For this, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya’s achievement is simply epic.

Africa

The continental competitions of Africa are also reaching their decisive stages.

In the African Champions League semi-finals, Egypt's Al-Ahly beat Algeria's Setif 2-0, despite a fan protest against the club management, while Angola's Primeiro de Agosto surprised Tunisian giants Esperance de Tunis with a 1-0 victory in the first leg.

In the CAF Confederations Cup, Morocco's Raja Casablanca won 1-0 against Nigerian Enyimba, while Al-Masry of Port Said drew 0-0 at home against Congolese powerhouse Vita - which means all is open for Palestinian sensation Mahmoud Wadi and his friends in the second leg.


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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