On 1997/98, Ammar Salman, a young right back at Hapoel Jerusalem, played his first ever cup final. His modest club had a positive season in Israeli National League, but surprised the whole country after qualified for the cup final to play the mighty Maccabi Haifa. After 0-0 in ninety minutes, the teams went to the extra time. There, Haifa scored twice and terminated the dreams of the little red riding hood from Jerusalem.
Since that match Salman grew up to be an Hapoel Jerusalem legend, and also coached the club in two occasions. Unfortunately, Hapoel was in a different situation already, far away from that team which qualified for that cup final in 1998. The club suffered the departure of many of his fans who founded Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem, in a task to take over the club as fans. A cup final for Hapoel Jerusalem is still a far dream, as in the last season the club have relegated to the Israeli third division.
Last season, 2015/16, Salman worked as the coach of Hilal Al-Quds from the Palestinian league. He arrived in January, saved the club from relegation and managed to qualify fro the cup final. There, they met Ahli Al-Khaleel, who came in great shape and thrashed Salman and Hilal's players. Despite the expectations, it was another cup final Salman has lost.
On Saturday night, in Dura International Stadium, Salman's cup fortune has finally changed.
The West bank Cup final, which was also a Hebron derby, between Ahli Al-Khaleel and Shabab Al-Khaleel, took part in 22:00 o'clock local time, due to Ramadan fest. This time, Salman arrived the caste as the manager of Ahli Al-Khaleel.
For the Red Devils from Hebron, Al-Ahli, it was the third time in-a-row in the final, while for Shabab, probably the biggest club in the Palestine, it was a comeback after years of absence from the final stage. Back in April, the teams have met for an aggressive league fixture that ended up with Shabab’s victory, 2-1.
“After the league derby between us, it was clear that we needed to tough up our game in order to overcome Shabab”, said Ammar to BabaGol. This is exactly what they did.
Thousands of fans, most of them Shabab’ supporters, filled the stands and created great atmosphere in Dura. After ninety minutes of a physical thriller, the scoreboard showed 0-0. In the Palestine Cup the match goes straight to penalty shootouts in case of a draw in ninety minutes, and it was case on this time too.
On the spot kicks Al-Ahli nerves were on top. Goalkeeper Azmi Shweiky stopped two shots, Shabab’s goalie Ghanem Mahajneh bombed the crossbar and out, and the Ibrahim Habibi netted the last penalty for Al-Ahli in coolness, and sent the fans of the smaller club of Hebron to celebrate in ecstasy.
As mentioned, it was Al-Ahli 3rd consecutive triumph in the West Bank Cup. In the past three years it became a routine for the young club –winning the cup, winning the match-up against a Gazan team in the Palestine Cup, and representing Palestine in the AFC Cup.
For coach Salman himself, it was a unique day. Salman, a Jerusalemite from Beit Safafa, who lost cup finals with Hapoel Jerusalem as a player and Hilal Al-Quds as a coach, brought the shift Al-Ahli needed this season. When he signed at the club in January, the club was ranked 8th out of twelve, and the squad was short and tired after a long run together.
“My perception is relaying on the players’ joy and passion for the profession. If they feel challenged and enjoy the training – you can produce more from them”.
In the second round of this season's West Bank Premier League, Salman’s Ahli Khaleel gained 25 points, five more than Hilal Al-Quds who won the title, and finished the season on the third place – the highest rank the club ever achieved. “The quality of the players made it possible. They are great players and great persons”.
Al-Ahli will play in the Palestine Cup final against Shabab Rafah, and for Salman it will be the first time since 1993, to visit the Gaza Strip. “This would be very exciting, as I haven’t visited the place in the past 25 years. It’s an emotional moment, for sure”, he concluded.
In the past two seasons in Palestinian football, Ammar Salman have put his trademark as one of the most quality coaches in the scenery. With another year on the contract at the Red side of Hebron, the club and he will look to win the Palestine Cup, represent the Palestinians in Asia and to build a strong infrastructure that will help the club to win the only title it didn’t – the West Bank Championship title.
Whether he will succeed to make history with Al-Ahli, Salman closed an important climax in his career' story with this triumph. After two disappointments with the Jerusalem clubs, both from Israel and Palestine, in Hebron he finally could lift the bronze huge cup and smile.