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Uri Levy

Champions of Africa: This week in Middle East football

Wydad have cruised into the World Club championships in the UAE [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 8 November, 2017

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Moroccans celebrated late into the night as Wydad Casablanca defied naysayers and thumped Egypt's al-Ahly in Africa's premier continental football tournament.

After 25 years of trying, Wydad Casablanca has won the African Champions League, with a victory against Al-Ahly Cairo. Nearly 60,000 fans crammed into the Mohammed V Stadium before the celebrations took over the city when the locals won 1-0, from a goal by Wlyd El-Karty.

The game itself was not brilliant. It was an intense, aggressive and stressful football match, but that's not the story here. Not at all.

The story is Wydad. This is a club that has been improving in recent years, setting a new standard for clubs from North Africa and making millions of Moroccans proud. On Saturday night in Paris and across the Netherlands, expat Moroccans were celebrating until dawn.

Hope leads to surprise

The story is Wydad's fans, whose singing - full of hope and courage - inspired all who heard it.

The story is the Moroccan obsession for winning trophies and glory, with the national team in Abidjan facing the Ivory Coast next week, in the final qualifying game to send them to the World Cup - the first they'd make the finals in almost 20 years.

The story here is al-Ahly, who against the run of their own history, managed to lose a game they could have won twice in the first half, leaving them in tears at the final whistle.

The story here is the endless passion for football that we see from Africa and the Middle East. It is always connects to the story of a city, a country, a nation or people.

Mabrouk ya Wydad, and good luck to Morocco.

 
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Iraqi air force strikes again

Due to the media focus on the African Champions League final, another story of triumph and glory from the region flew beneath the radar.

For the second season in a row, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, the Iraqi Air Force football club, won the AFC Cup - the second most important football competition in Asia.

On Saturday afternoon, Al-Jawiya, the leading club in Iraq in recent years, beat Istiklol from Tajikistan 1-0 in Dushanbe, thanks to a goal from Emad Mohsin in the 68th minute. Captain Hammadi Ahmed laid back Sameh Saeed's cross from the right for Mohsin, who emphatically finished from 12 yards for his third goal of the campaign.

Al-Jawiya completed a "repeat", after they won the tournament last year too, when they played India's JSW Bengaluru in Doha, during a time when Iraq was experiencing some of its darkest, most uncertain days during the war in Mosul.

Al-Jawiya is becoming the face of Iraq road to recovery - at least in sports - with a second-ever continental title. This achievement is the latest in a series of successful tournaments, after the team won the Iraqi Cup in 2015, the AFC Cup in 2016 and the Iraqi league and AFC Cup in 2017.

With such an impressive record in less than three years, it's no exaggeration to say that al-Jawiya is becoming a mega-club in Iraqi and Asian standards. 

Building for the future

Iraq has been investing vastly in football in the past year, renovating and constructing new stadiums and football facilities in order to push the country forward in international sports. Al-Jawiya's victory isn't an "out of the blue" surprise, but a reward for the hard work that has been made by the club and the Iraqi football community.

Yet, despite great success at the Asian level, the local league is struggling. The Iraqi Football Association is having trouble in building the right system for the new 2017/18 season.

After expanding the league from 20 teams to 26 in two groups of 13, in the past week the organisers have added to two more teams from the second division. Iraq's Premier League will therefore see 28 teams compete this year, but officials couldn't agree on a preferred format. Two weeks before the season is due to kick off, this might be a problem.

But looking at Al-Jawiya's achievements and the fact that football is being played in a country that has suffered so much from terror, wars and instability, puts everything in proportions. Even if it's delayed a week or two, the Iraqi League will be played this season, and will no doubt provide fascinating moments of Middle Eastern football in the local and international competitions.

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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