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Expert's View: West Asia Zonal final

Thursday, September 13, 2018
AFC Cup 2018 - AIR FORCE CLUB (IRQ) vs AL JAZEERA (JOR) - 12022018 - Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Stadium (37)

Kuala Lumpur: Al Jazeera and Air Force Club prepare to lock horns for the third time in the 2018 AFC Cup, and this time a place in the final is the prize.

The Jordanian surprise package and the reigning champions from Iraq have already faced-off twice in the group stage, with both fixtures ending in draws. Air Force Club travel to Amman for the first leg of the West Asia Zonal final, hoping to move a step closer to third successive AFC Cup title.

We spoke to journalist Hassanin Mubarak, who covers Middle Eastern football for London-based daily newspaper Arab News and has contributed to the likes of World Soccer and When Saturday Comes magazines.

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Air Force Club are three matches away from winning a third consecutive AFC Cup. What makes them such a dominant force in the competition?

In the last three seasons Air Force Club have been able to retain the difficult balance between their long Iraqi league campaign and participating in the AFC Cup. The club have a stable group of players who have performed well in that period despite constant managerial changes.

Former Iraq coach Basim Qasim, who had guided the club to their first AFC Cup title two years ago, is back after the recent resignation of Radhi Shenaishel.

🎉🎉🎉 Congratulations to Air Force Club for winning the #AFCCup2017 🏆! #AFCCupFinal

— AFC Cup (@AFCCup) November 4, 2017

The backbone of the side Qasim had in his first spell remains largely intact and the club have re-signed central defender Saad Natiq to try and bolster their defence after the departure of Samal Saeed. 

What effect will the departure of Humam Tariq have on the team?

Humam Tariq was a fan favourite at Air Force Club and his exit will have a significant impact especially in the final third.

The club’s administration had been planning for a number of months ahead of Humam’s imminent move and this was one of the reasons why the club decided to make an early move for Ali Husni of Al Minaa in the summer.

From 🇮🇶 to 🇮🇷! How will new Esteghlal signing Humam Tariq perform in the #ACL2018?

— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) August 14, 2018

The mercurial talent has yet to adjust to life at the Baghdad-based club and with veteran playmaker Salih Sadir surplus to requirements and allowed to leave, there will be added pressure on the attacking midfielder to make his mark on the big occasions starting with the AFC Cup tie with Al Jazeera.

What will be the key for Air Force Club to beat Al Jazeera over the two legs?

The goals of Air Force Club’s attacking duo Hammadi Ahmed and Amjed Radhi have been crucial for the side. Captain Ahmed has an impressive AFC Cup record with 22 goals in 29 matches and ended the domestic season in form with seven goals in his last nine matches.


Amjad Radhi has been Air Force Club's standout player in the #AFCCup2018 as the 🇮🇶 club eye their third straight 🏆!

— AFC Cup (@AFCCup) June 12, 2018

Radhi, on the other hand, also has AFC Cup pedigree with 32 goals in 53 matches with Arbil then Air Force Club. In this year’s competition, the 27-year-old has six goals in as many matches. Both players scored against Al Jazeera in their group matches and their goals will be key if they want to progress further.

Al Jazeera are unbeaten in the competition so far. Do they have what it takes to go all the way and win the title?

Al Jazeera were unlucky not to have defeated Air Force Club in Irbid last April where a stoppage time equaliser from Radhi rescued the Iraqi club.

Despite being under new management, the Jordanian side have started the season with two wins in two in the Jordan Premier League and it looks like the departures of Tunisian coach Chiheb Ellili and starlet Musa Al Taamari have not unsettled the side.

They have the character to win the competition as their magnificent fight-back in Seeb against Oman's Al Suwaiq demonstrated. The Jordanians were 2-0 down after 41 minutes but managed to claw themselves back from defeat by scoring three goals in 27 minutes to win the game 3-2.

What effect will the departure of Musa Al Taamari have on the team?

Six goals in seven matches suggest Al Jazeera will miss their young jewel Al Taamari, if not for his goals then for his canny ability to take on and beat opposition defenders.

Musa Al Taamari's impressive displays in the #AFCCup2018 have been rewarded with a transfer to 27-time Cypriot champions APOEL. The 🇯🇴 youngster speaks to us about his AFC Cup memories and ambitions for the future...

— AFC Cup (@AFCCup) August 13, 2018

The 21-year-old Jordanian international had impressed throughout the AFC Cup group stages before leaving for Europe and Cypriot club APOEL. His two goals against fellow Jordanian club Al Faisaly were instrumental in Al Jazeera going through the West Asia Zonal semi-finals.

Al Jazeera have signed Mahmoud Al Mardi from Al Faisaly and Palestinian Islam Batran along with Ahmed Al Essawi to compensate for the loss of Al-Taamari.

What will be the key for Al Jazeera to beat Air Force Club over the two legs?

There was nothing to separate the two sides in Doha and Amman in the group stage. Both teams have changed head coaches over the summer and both new coaches have previous experience working at their clubs and more significantly they have both won the AFC Cup before.

Syrian coach Nizar Mahrous is back at Al Jazeera where he spent one season in 2016-2017 and had formerly guided Shabab Al Ordon to the AFC Cup in 2007, the last time a Jordanian club have reached the AFC Cup final.

Basim Qasim, meanwhile, returns to the club where he won an AFC Cup and a league title in 2016. With their group matches encounters tight, it could go down to the tactical nous of Mahrous who knows Iraqi football and Air Force Club well after winning the Iraqi league title with Arbil in 2012.

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