One weekend, three games. All the information.
While the Asian Cup is reaching the final moments of its groups stage, the AFCON (African Cup of Nations) is about to begin this week, in order to complete a quality time of continental football. In addition, we will observe an interesting and exotic league, accompanied by the sounds of Reggae. Let's go!
(All the hours are in CET local time)
Friday, 08:00, Jordan – Palestine (AFC Asian Cup)
The match between the two Middle Eastern national teams will be the main event in Friday for millions of Arabs, and not only because of the football.
The Palestinians are one of the biggest ethnic groups in Jordan, as they compose almost a third of the population. Mainly concentrated in the regions of Amman, Zarqa and Irbid, The Palestinians are represented in the football scene by one of the biggest clubs in the country, Al-Wehdat, which sends seven players to the Jordanian national squad. In fact, Jordan versus Palestine is a rare and unique derby, as it has all the right ingredients for a hot football meeting.
The history between the two nations goes way back.
The Jordanian control of the West Bank until 1967, King's Hussein's refusal to recognize the Palestinian national aspirations. and the 1970 incidents, commonly known as Black September, which influenced and torched the collective memory of both populations, are among the main historical clashes between the two.
Now, let's play some football.
The Jordanian team is one of the most fastest emerging sides in Asia. After years of failures, Jordan qualified for the Asia Cup for the first time in 2004. It was the beginning of an improvement, as they qualified again in 2011 and now as well, but their real peak was in the last World Cup qualifiers. Jordan made a great campaign when they finished their group in third place, achieving heroic home victories against Japan and Australia, and having eliminated Uzbekistan in the playoffs. Even though they have lost 5-0 to Uruguay in the intercontinental playoffs, they cannot be disappointed.
All the players in the Jordanian squad are playing for Arab teams. The majority play in the domestic league, while two of the major players are goalkeeper Amer Shafi and striker Ahmed Hayil, who play for the Kuwaiti team Al-Arabi. In the squad there are also two players with European experience, who were also the first Jordanian players to play in Europe – Abdallah Deeb, now playing for Al-Riffa from Bahrain, and Odai Al-Saifi, now playing for Al-Salmiya from Kuwait. The Palestinian national team’s situation is different. The fact that they participate in the tournament is their main achievement. As the blockade on the Gaza Strip continues, the Palestinians faced many difficulties in recent years.
Despite the bad conditions for creating a decent team, Palestine succeeded in creating an interesting mixture of players from different backgrounds, in their national team. Players from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Arab Israeli players and Palestinian origin players are all part of Jibril Rajub’s project. Abdelatif Bahdari plays for the Jordanian-Palestinian team Al-Wehdat, the goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh, now without a club, but with a great experience in the the Egyptian League, and the team’s star, Ashraf Nu'man from the Saudi team Al-Faisali. Additionally, there are Palestinian-origin players, like Alexis Norambuena who plays in Poland, Mahmoud Eid who plies his trade in Sweden and Jaka Ihbeisheh who is competing in Slovenia. With them, Palestine is demonstrating a varied and interesting side which can surprise Jordan.
With history and nationalism on the background and Palestine's great hype at the tournament, this match is a serious encounter. Don't miss it.
Sunday, 20:00, Tunisia – Cape Verde (African Cup of Nations)
The African Cup of Nations is on next week. The tournament was originally planned to be hosted by Morocco, but the Ebola epidemic saga made them turn down the option, and Equatorial Guinea was chosen as a replacement. The tournament has an interesting group stage, but this specific match has a special story behind it. The last duel between Tunisia and Cape Verde was in the last World Cup qualifiers, as the Cape Verdeans qualified to the playoffs after winning in a decisive match against Tunisia (2:0) and finished one point above them. After the group stage was concealed, it was revealed that Cape Verde fielded an ineligible player, Fernando Varela, and FIFA decided to award the match to Tunisia, which qualified to the next stage. This match will be the opportunity for both of the teams to show, once and for all, who is the better side.
Tunisia is a member of the AFCON for the past 23 years, and the last time the they missed the competition was in 1992. Even though they’ve won the cup only once, the Eagles of Carthage are considered as one of the strongest teams in the continent. After the failure to qualify for the last World Cup, Tunisia appointed new coach, Belgian George Leekens, who previously led his national team and Club Brugge. The two most capped players in the team, Hocine Ragued and Aymen Mathlouthy, both play for Tunisian teams. They will lead a group of players, who play in the domestic league and Europe. Amine Chermiti, who plays for FC Zürich in the last five years, his teammate Yassine Chikhaoui, and Jamel Saihi, a home-grown player of Montpellier.
The little island of Cape Verde is seeing its national team rise in past years. The Blue Sharks were one of the weakest teams in the continent, until they qualified for the first time to the last AFCON, reached the quarterfinals and had a tremendous appearance in the World Cup qualifiers. Their current coach, Rui Águas, played in his home nation Portugal for Benfica and Porto, but as a coach he failed to provide such a success.
After many years that all the Cape Verde international players played for Portuguese clubs, now they are coming from all over Europe. The most popular player in the team is Héldon from Sporting Lisbon. Alongside him is Babanco, who plays for Estoril and made 40 international caps. More interesting names are Elche winger Gary Rodrigues and Steaua Bucharest defender Fernando Varela.
The Sharks have a lot to prove in this match, so expect a great fight at the AFCON group stage.
Sunday, 21:00, Montego Bay – Harbour View (Jamaican Premier League)
Jamaica is well-known for its sun, weed, great sprinters and Bob Marley. Even so, football fans remember Jamaica for ‘The Reggae Boyz’, the national team which played in the 1998 World Cup. This weekend we have great opportunity to meet two of the major teams in Jamaica, as they face each other in the local league.
In Jamaican local competition there are 12 teams, playing in three rounds and a final series which includes only the top four. This Sunday, Montego Bay, the defending champions, will host Harbour View. Montego Bay won last year's finals 5-2 against Waterhouse and currently are ranked in the 3rd place. They have only five loses this season and their last one came after eight games without losing.
Most of the players are unknown, but the notable player is Allan Ottey, a Jamaican youngster and the team’s top scorer this season, with 6 goals. Evan Taylor and Dino Williams, who played in the USA, and Bahamian international star, Lesly St. Fleur, are also major figures at the club. Foreign coaches are not common in the Jamiacan league, but Spaniard Aitor García, is the coach of Montego Bay, has some success so far.
Harbour View was eliminated in last year's semifinals against Montego Bay and they are now holding the fourth place, two points behind their opponents. A few years ago they were considered to be the best team in Jamaica, winning twice the CFU Club Championship, the Caribbean Champions League.
Harbour View has only Jamaican players in the squad, and a Jamaican coach as well. The top player of the team is the home-grown defender, Kemar Lawrence, from the current Jamaica national team squad. He is so popular that he was chosen to be part from the last Pepsi campaign alongside players like Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero.
More players with decent resumes are Jermaine Hue, who played in the MLS and the Swedish league, Fabian Taylor and Eric Vernan, who played for Norwegian lower league teams. Keith Kelly, who 15 years ago made decent tournament with the U-17 team of Jamaica which earned him a spot in the Paris Saint-Germain youth team, is also part of side.
Jamaica has a tropical climate, but the meetings between these two sides always turn the island up-side down. Stay tuned.