One weekend, three games, Worldwide. All the information.
The weekend is here, and it's BabaGol’s weekend recap time. This weekend we will travel to Australia, to have a close look at one of the biggest games in the Asian continent. In addition, we will continue our tour in the Caribbean and we´ll meet one of the most ancient leagues in the world. All aboard!
(All the hours are in CET local time)
Friday, 07:30, Iran – Iraq (AFC Asian Cup)
Due to the region´s history, Middle Eastern rivalries certainly produce some emotional match-ups. An Asia Cup quarterfinal match between Iran and Iraq is exactly the case.
The first Persian Gulf War started when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980. It was the longest conventional war in the 20th century. It was a battle between Shia and Suna, both wished to get several disputed areas like the area of Shatt Al-Arab. The war ended in 1988, as both countries counted thousands of casualties.
While Iran is dealing with nuclear sanctions and ISIS is tearing Iraq apart, it is the right time for a football match between these two great countries. Iran is one of the strongest teams in Asia. They have a long tradition of successful campaigns in the Asian Cup, as they won three consecutive titles in 1968, 1970 and 1972. In the last World Cup they produced an impressive performance, even though they got only one point. Their group stage in the Asian Cup was a bit easier, as they won against Bahrain and Qatar, but the decisive match for the first place against the UAE was dramatic, and only a winning goal in extra time by Reza Ghoochannejhad send them to the next round from the first place. Their manager Carlos Queiroz will try to lead his team to the semifinals, even though in the past few days the main issue in ‘Team Melli’ is a controversy selfie photo.
The leader of the team is Javad Nekounam, probably in his last tournament. He will tie Ali Daei's record for international caps for the national team, as it will be his 149th cap. Another controversial player is Ashkan Dejagah, who grew up in Germany and played for their youth national team, and even won the 2009 U-21 Euro’s with players like Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil. He is a known outsider in conservative Iran, mainly because of his tattoos. "Berlin" is written on one arm, "Tehran" on the second, and on his neck there is a phrase, "Never forget where you’re coming from".
The Iraqi team arrived in this tournament while their country is collapsing. ISIS is murdering thousands of people all over Iraq. Earlier this week, 13 people were reportedly killed by the Jihadists for watching the national team against Jordan. For the Iraqis, all of it doesn't matter. They remember how in the first years of the American invasion to Iraq they made two major footballing achievements: the U-23 team reached the 4th place in the 2004 Olympics, after dominating against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portuguese team. They also won the Asian Cup in 2007. Younes Mahmoud, who scored the decisive goal in 2007 Asian Cup final, is the lone member of this team who is still playing. He is also the most capped Iraqi player with 134 caps. Most of the squad is based in the Iraqi league, but there are several players with experience abroad. Ali Adnan, nicknamed ‘The Iraqi Gareth Bale’, who plays for Turkish side Rizespor, Ahmed Yasin who immigrated to Sweden at the age of three, and Osama Rashid who plays in the Netherlands.
This rivalry is full of History, tensions, blood and a desire to dominate the other. It is everything a national team’s football match should contain. Don’t dare to miss.
Saturday, 01:00, W Connection – Central FC (Trinidad and Tobago Pro League)
After last week we checked the Jamaican League, we will continue our cruise in the Caribbean, to our next stop: Trinidad and Tobago. The Trinidadian football isn't highly developed, and except their one participation in the 2006 World Cup and their all-time greatest player Dwight Yorke, the football scene in this country is almost unknown. On Saturday, ambitious W Connection will meet the league leaders, Central.
W Connection is one of the biggest clubs in the history of the Trinidadian football. Alongside five domestic championships and four domestic cups, they twice won the CFU Club Championship.
Several of the best Trinidadian players are recognized with the club. Kenwyne Jones, Cardiff City’s player, and Arnold Dwarika, who played 73 matches for the national team. Last season they won the championship easily, losing only twice in 24 games. Most of the players in the squad are Caribbean, as the key players are Silvio Spann, a former Wrexham player; Mekeil Williams, who came back after playing in Poland and Denmark, and Gerard Williams, player of the St. Kitts and Nevis national team with 27 caps.
Central is the newest team in the Trinidadian league. It was founded by former international football player Brent Sancho who tried to build their reputation by developing projects in the community. At the end of their first season, they already had 12 community projects, so the connection with its’ fans is very strong.
The current manager is the only non-Caribbean manager in the league, Zoran Vraneš from Serbia, who managed the Trinidadian national team in the 90's and since 2009 leads the U-20 national team. Central’s squad is based only on Trinidadian players and some of the notable names are: Jan-Michael Williams, who has 49 international caps, Hector Sam, who played for lower level teams in England, and Ataullah Guerra, who came back to his home nation after one year in RoPS from Finland. Another interesting name is defender Elton John, who might sing the national Trinidadian anthem before the match (not seriously).
When the champions are facing the new title contenders it’s always exciting, especially if it’s in Trinidad & Tobago.
Saturday, 10:30, Kitchee – Eastern (Hong Kong Premier League)
Here´s an interesting fact: Hong Kong is one of the oldest football nations. The local cup tournament has been played since 1896, and the league’s first season was in 1908.
This weekend, league leaders Eastern will play 4th spot Kitchee. The five point gap between the two is not crucial, as Kitchee has two games in hand compared to Eastern.
Kitchee is the reigning champion and one of the biggest teams in Hong Kong’s history. They won six domestic titles and last season they reached the semifinals of the AFC Cup, the second-tier trophy of the Asian football.
Kitchee’s manager is the Spaniard José Francisco Molina, who was the goalkeeper of Atlético Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna. The team has some other Spanish faces in their roster. Juan Belencoso was a Spanish lower division player until his transfer to Hong Kong. Since his arrival he can't stop scoring: in the last season he scored 16 goals in 17 matches and this season he scored 5 in 6. More key players are Fernando Recio, home-grown player of Espanyol, and captain Lo Kwan Yee, who played 37 times for Hong Kong's national team. Another interesting name is Nigerian Christian Annan, who has been playing in Hong Kong since 2005, and also married a local and played for the national team.
The league leaders, Eastern, are one of the veteran clubs in Hong Kong, established in 1932. Nevertheless, Eastern won only four domestic titles and their last one was back in 1995. Their great opening to this season makes them believe that now it's possible to win the title after a long time. Their current manager is Cristiano Cordeiro, a Brazilian who played for 14 years in Hong Kong, became a permanent resident and even was the captain of Hong Kong's national team. The main player is Brazilian Giovane, who has a great experience in Chinese and Hong Kong football. More notable names are the goalkeeper Yapp Hung Fai, the current Hong Kong national team captain, and Rohan Ricketts from England, who was part of the youth system of Arsenal and now plays in the tenth nation of his career (after England, Canada, Hungary, Moldova, Germany, Ireland, India, Ecuador and Thailand).
Hong Kong is a nation with a long tradition of football. This game is surely going to be an important chapter of it.