West Asian teams gear up for Zonal Semi-Finals
Kuala Lumpur: Having put their respective domestic league campaigns behind them, four West Asian sides are set for the 2019 AFC Cup Zonal Semi-Finals next week.
Al Jazeera and Al Ahed are back in this stage for the second year in a row, while Al Wehdat are back at the Zonal Semi-Finals for a second time after 2017. Champions in 2004, Al Jaish have not played at this stage since its introduction two season ago.
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Despite topping their AFC Cup group and reaching the Zonal Semi-Finals for the second year in three years, a disappointing third-place finish in the Jordanian League saw Al Wehdat part ways with manager Kais Al Yaqoubi in May. Club legend Abdullah Abu Zema replaced the Tunisian at the helm, with the first item on his to-do list a double-header with Lebanon’s Al Ahed.
Abu Zema found himself in the peculiar position of taking charge after the end of the domestic league season, but with an important continental affair ahead. Luckily for the new Al Wehdat boss, another Jordanian side were in the same situation.
The two Amman sides met on Wednesday in a friendly behind closed doors as they looked to maintain their fitness levels. Al Wehdat emerged 2-1 winners.
Preparations are underway in Beirut as Al Ahed gear up for their second successive AFC Cup Zonal Semi-Finals appearance under coach Bassem Marmar.
The Lebanese side made minor changes to their team, opting not to renew the contract of Bulgarian winger Martin Toshev, but welcome the return from injury of Syrian defender Ahmed Al Saleh and star midfielder Mohammed Haidar.
Al Ahed did the domestic double, pipping Al Ansar to the League title then beating them 1-0 in the Cup final to lift both trophies. A single defeat to the runners-up was all that stood between Marmar’s men and back-to-back invincible league campaigns.
An exhilarating finale to the Jordanian League ended in heartbreak for Al Jazeera, who went into the summer break as runners-up, finishing just one point behind eventual champions Al Faisaly.
After initially announcing his departure, Tunisian coach Chiheb Ellili stayed put, renewing his contract and will lead the team out in their second consecutive AFC Cup Zonal Semi-Final against Al Jaish of Syria.
Al Jazeera’s preparations for the Zonal Semi-Finals clash against Al Jaish were hampered by the absence of five key players who joined up with the Jordan squad for the 4-1 win over Indonesia. The quintet missed the side’s sole post-season friendly against rivals Al Wehdat but are back in time for next week’s first leg in Bahrain.
One point was the difference at the end, but Al Jaish ultimately saw off the challenge of Teshreen to seal a fifth successive Syrian Premier League title on the final matchday.
Al Jaish’s Syrian Cup campaign ended prematurely with a shock defeat at the hands of Al Taleea in the quarter-finals, but as league winners, the Damascus side will represent Syria in the 2020 AFC Champions League, entering at the first preliminary round.
Alarm bells rang for coach Tarek Jabban as star midfielder Ahmad Ashkar was stretchered off in Syria’s 2-0 friendly defeat to Uzbekistan on Tuesday, but the club later announced their playmaker will recover in time for the Al Jazeera fixture.
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