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Banking on success: This week in Middle East football Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Banking on success: This week in Middle East football

Al-Jazira's goalkeeper Ali Khaseif held up well against European Champions Real Madrid [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 December, 2017

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Egyptian banks have announced new loans and services for fans to help boost support for the national team during next year's World Cup in Russia.
With four Arab teams due to appear in next year's World Cup in Russia, many are sceptical about the number of fans that will arrive from North Africa and the Middle East to support their teams. 

Travelling to Russia for the World Cup won't be cheap, and therefore the common perception is that fans from poorer countries won't arrive en masse. Though - when the World Cup is on the line and Egypt is playing - these people can reconsider their theory.

Under the slogan "Cheer for Egypt's Soccer Team", many Egyptian banks have announced new loans and plans to help Egyptians cheer on the team in Russia for the 2018 World Cup.

One bank has announced plans to support Egypt's national team with an installment scheme for fans that will allow them to pay back loans over six years.

This programme will cover ministries' employees, government agencies, the public sector, the private sector, investment sector, owners of commercial and industrial businesses, as well as pension beneficiaries. Other banks also plan to launch similar loan schemes during the build up to the World Cup.

According to the International Federation of Football, Egypt is on the list of the top 10 Arab and African countries whose fans plan to attend the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Egypt is on the list of the top 10 Arab and African countries whose fans made plans to attend the World Cup 2018 in Russia

Advertisements have been published across Egypt explaining how to obtain a Russia visa so they can go support the Egyptian team. In addition, Egypt is on the list of the top 10 countries to order tickets - besides Argentina, Peru, Mexico, the US, Colombia, Brazil, Morocco, China and Poland.

The 2018 World Cup is tipped to be a celebration of Arab football, as the opening match will see Saudi Arabia play host Russia. The group stages will also include Egypt v Saudi Arabia, Morocco v Iran, Egypt v Uruguay, Tunisia v England, and Morocco v Spain.

The tournament will be held in 12 fields in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Kazan, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod, as well as the city of Rostov on the Don River.

Tunisian Ultras and Clásico

In Tunisia, powerful ultras of the country's big clubs - Club Africain, Esperance de Tunis and Etoile du Sahel - are well known for their colourful and noisy support for their teams.

A famous TV show recently hosted two ultras leaders and asked them about the pyro culture of the fans. Near the end of the interview, the host asked the fans how they smuggle pyrotechnics and flares into stadiums.

The fans answered that this question was "a red line that the media shouldn't cross". They then added a question of their own - "You have security for the many detectors here in the studio entrance, yes?" The host answered, yes. Then both fans - one from Club Africain and one of Esperance - lit up flares in the studio. You can watch the full video here.

The 2018 World Cup is tipped to be a celebration of Arab football

Two days later, Club Africain played Etoile du Sahel - one of the biggest matches in Tunisian football. A 1-0 victory in Rades helped Club Africain gain an important three points, although they are still far away from contesting the league title. It didn't stop their ultras, who, of course, continued to light up the stadium.

A star for the moment

Salah, has been, again, world class for Liverpool breaking more and more club’s records [Getty]

In a weekend where both Ali Adnan and Mohammed Salah - two Arab football stars in European leagues - have starred for their teams in terrific victories, an Emirati goalkeeper has stolen the show in the Arab world.

Adnan shined in Udinese's win over Italian league leaders Inter Milan, while Salah has been, again, world class for Liverpool this week breaking more and more club's records. But the Arab footballer who won the lion's share of attention from fans this week was none other than Ali Khaseif, a veteran goalkeeper with UAE side, al-Jazira Abu Dhabi. He managed to hold off European Champions, Real Madrid, for 51 minutes in the Club World Cup semi-final.

Khaseif stopped seven great shots from the Real stars and helped his team to head to their dressing room at half-time with a surprising 1-0 advantage over the Spanish champions.

Khaseif - completely unknown to most of the world's football fans, but a familiar figure with Middle Eastern football hipsters - was injured at the start of the second-half and was substitute by Khaled al-Senani. Yet, his performance was so impressive that most football fans were focused on his heroic saves and quality play, rather than any other aspect of the game.

Real Madrid ended up winning the match 2-1, and went through to win the title for the second consecutive time. Al-Jazira - and Khaseif - have left with the compliments of fans and the fact that for one week the most notable football figure in the Arab world wasn't Salah, Adnan or Mahrez, but a veteran goalkeeper from Abu Dhabi.

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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