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Uri Levy

Countdown to Casablanca: This week in Middle East football

The first leg of the African Champions League final ended 1-1 [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 November, 2017

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Egypt's Al Ahly Cairo and Morocco's Wydad Casablanca are vying for the African Champions League trophy, writes Uri Levy.
An all-Arab African Champions League final is the reason for a football celebration across the region, and the first leg between Al-Ahly Cairo and Wydad Casablanca was a massive match.

More than 53,000 spectators crammed into the Borg El-Arab Stadium in Alexandria to witnessed Mo'men Zakaria score after just three minutes to put Al-Ahly ahead.

It seemed to be another walk in the park for the Ahlawyis, after their 6-2 victory in the semi-final gainst Ittihad Algiers.

But Wydad didn't give up easily, and on the 16th minute they were back in the game. Ounajem found Bencharki, who netted the equaliser, and from then on it was a hard-fought battle all over the pitch.

The match finished 1-1, and it's all to play for in the second leg at the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca on Saturday.

The history of the teams makes the final even more exciting.

In 25 home games in the African Champions League throughout the past ten years, Wydad has lost only once. Who'd they lost to? That's right - Al-Ahly.

If that's not enough, every time Al-Ahly have tied their home leg in African finals, as they did in 2006 and 2012, they have gone on to win the competition.

In 2012, they made it despite the local league being suspended after the Port Said massacre, with almost no practice for the team.

Whether they'll be Egyptians or Moroccans, Africa will have new champions on Saturday night.

 
Catch up with all our football coverage


Saudi Arabia allows women to watch

On Sunday evening, Saudi Arabia announced it would open football stadiums to women from January 2018. Family sections will be opened in three stadiums in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, in order to allow women attend local league matches.

But reports have indicated that, despite the historic move, women will not be able to attend matches without their husbands.

Kuwait-Riyadh-Lebanon

In Kuwait, the local Clásico between Kuwait Club and Qadsiya took place this past weekend.

After a quiet first half, Kuwait went up 1-0 with a low 23-yard shot from Sami Al-Snae'a. The country's two mega-clubs, who usually fight for the title, have had mixed fortunes so far this season - Kuwait are leading the league with 16 points, while Qadsiya have dropped to sixth with only six points.

The Riyadh derby, between Saudi giants Al-Hilal and their archrivals at Al-Nassr, also attracted the attention of Middle Eastern football fans over the weekend.

Although Nassr opened well, with Al-Sahlawy scoring a penalty, Al-Dawsari and Carlos Eduardo completed a comeback for the Blues who won 2-1 to return to the top of table, ahead of Al-Ahli Jeddah.

Al-Nassr, who had a strong start to the season, now appear to be slowing up.

Meanwhile, on the coast of the Mediterranean, the Lebanese league is turning out to be one of the most interesting competitions in the region.

After six matchdays, the table is Beirut-oriented, with the top five spots taken by the capital's teams - Ansar, Safa, Ahed, Nejmeh and Racing. On Sunday, 14 goals were scored in three matches, when Safa tied a 3-3 thriller with Al Akhaa Al Ahli, Tripoli and Salam Zagartha ended 2-2 and Ansar hammered Al Islah 4-0 to reach the top of the table.

With just three points dividing five clubs from the same city at such an early stage, Lebanon's league is worth following this season.

 

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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