Upsets light up domestic cup action in West and Central Asia
Dubai: With domestic cup competitions coming to a temporary halt at their final stages across a number of West and Central Asian countries, the abundance of surprises this season has fans waiting anxiously for the tournaments to resume.
The 2019-20 season is proving that magic of the cup is still alive and kicking. From Saudi Arabia to Qatar, UAE to IR Iran, smaller teams have made deep runs into the competition and remain in contention for silverware when the knock-out competitions resume.
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King’s Cup – Saudi Arabia
Last year had already seen a major surprise in the King’s Cup, with Al Taawoun becoming the first team outside of Saudi Arabia’s traditional ‘Top 5’ to lift the trophy since Ettifaq in 1985, but the 2019-20 edition has brought even more surprises en route to the semi-final stage at which the competition is currently paused.
Three-time cup winners Al Shabab suffered the first major upset of the season, falling to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of second-division side Al Shula in the first round. Reigning champions Al Taawoun followed as the next surprise elimination, being knocked out by minnows Abha FC in the Round of 16, while the same stage saw giants Ittihad, runners-up in 2018-19, stunned by Al Fateh SC.
The two surprise quarter-finalists locked horns and it was the relatively smaller Abha who emerged on top on penalty shootouts after 120 minutes ended in a 1-1 draw. The side from southern Saudi Arabia join traditional powerhouses Al Ahli and Al Nassr in a semi-final stage that sees them book a date with AFC Champions League winners Al Hilal in what could be the biggest game in the club’s history.
Hazfi Cup – Islamic Republic of Iran
Surprises started early in IR Iran’s Hazfi Cup, with second-tier side Fajr Sepasi holding Pro League high-fliers Foolad Khuzestan to a 2-2 draw in 120 minutes before winning the penalty shootout to advance into the Round of 16.
Fajr Sepasi put up a fight against Tehran powerhouse Esteghlal FC, holding them to a goalless draw in 90 minutes before watching their dreams crushed by three extra time goals. As one fairy tale died, another was being born at the same stage; Naft Masjed Soleyman beat 2020 AFC Champions League participants Shahr Khodro FC. Elsewhere, 2010 AFC Champions League runners-up Zobahan FC fell to a 4-2 defeat by minnows Mes Kerman.
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. مستحق پیروزی بودیم جبوری: دوست دارم گل قهرمانی حذفی هم بزنم احمد الجبوری وینگر تیم فوتبال نفت مسجدسلیمان در دومین بازی پیاپی در جام حذفی تک گل برتری تیمش را به ثمر رساند. تیم فوتبال نفت مسجدسلیمان در مشهد دست به کار بزرگی زد و توانست برابر تیم شهرخودرو به پیروزی برسد و خود را به جمع 8تیم برتر برساند. احمد الجبوری در گفت و گو با خبرنگار ما درباره بازی و گلی که زد گفت: خداراشکر بازی را بردیم، اینکه من گل بزنم یا کس دیگر، مهم نیست و مهم موفقیت نفت است. خدارا شکر توانستیم پیروز شویم و صعود کنیم. قطعا مستحق پیروزی بودیم. وی که در بازی قبل برابر گل گهر سیرجان نیز تک گل تیمش در جام حذفی را زد، در این باره گفت: خدارا شکر می کنم و امیدوارم که این روند ادامه داشته باشد و بتوانیم همینگونه پیروز شویم و جلو برویم، دوست دارم گل قهرمانی نفت در جام حذفی را هم بزنم . تیم ما این فصل فوق العاده است، همه تلاش می کنند و هیچ کس برایش مهم نیست که روی نیمکت است یا در ترکیب، هرکس باشد تلاش می کند. جبوری درباره بازی بعد برابر شاهین در مسجدسلیمان نیز گفت: تیم شاهین بوشهر تیم خوبی است و دیدید امروز سایپا را شکست داد، اما ما در خانه و کنار هواداران حرف های زیادی برای گفتن داریم، و مطمئنا برای سه امتیاز به میدان می رویم. دست همه هوادارانی که از مسجدسلیمان تا مشهد با ماشین شخصی آمدند را می بوسم و خوشحالم که سبب خوشحالی شان شدم.....👑 💛
In the quarter-finals, Naft Masjed Soleyman continued their impressive run, eliminating a third Pro League side from the competition, by defeating Shahin Bushehr 3-2 to reach the semi-finals. They are joined by Persepolis and Tractor SC, while the pick of the quarter-final ties between Esteghlal and Sepahan is yet to be played.
President’s Cup – UAE
Over in the UAE, a routine Round of 16 saw eight top division sides progress predictable, but what followed was a thrilling quarter-final stage. Title holders Shabab Al Ahli were the first casualty, falling to a solitary goal from Winfried Schafer’s Bani Yas. Despite the presence of the nation’s biggest names such as Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout, Al Jazira were unable to overcome the challenge of Al Dhafra, losing 2-1 to exit at the quarter-finals too.
Match of the season in UAE football saw 11 goals, three penalties and a red card as Al Ain came from behind twice to defeat Al Wasl 6-5 in regular time. Kodjo Laba bagged four, while Caio Canedo scored a brace against his former club. Al Ain’s victory set up a semi-final clash against UAE Pro League champions Sharjah who had beaten Ittihad Kalba 2-0.
ألف مبرووك لمجلس إدارة نادي #الظفرة وجماهيره ولاعبي الفريق والأجهزة الفنية والإدارية والطبية..الظفرة إلى نهائي أغلى الكؤوس للمرة الثانية على التوالي.#كأس_رئيس_الدولة @uae @AbuDhabiSC pic.twitter.com/2YdbcpaLad— نادي الظفرة الرياضي (@aldhafraclub_ae) March 10, 2020
Al Dhafra kept their impressive record of conceding just one goal all tournament to edge out Bani Yas 1-0 in extra time to reach a second consecutive President’s Cup final. Their opponents will be Al Ain who continued their all-out-attack style to emerge 3-2 winners in another thriller against Sharjah.
Amir Cup – Qatar
It is a season of surprises in West Asia, and Qatar was no exception to the trend. Second-tier side Al Markhiya were the dark horses in the 2019-20 Amir Cup. The giant slayers started their cup campaign with a 1-0 victory over Al Gharafa in the Round of 16, before repeating the same score against another superior opponent in Al Rayyan in the quarter-finals, with veteran Omani midfielder Ahmed Mubarak leading the charge.
There was little against the odds outside Al Markhiya’s journey to the semis, as Al Duhail cruised to the last four with back-to-back 4-0 wins over Muaither and Al Sailiyah in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals respectively. Al Sadd joined them after needing penalty shootouts to overcome Al Wakrah, having beaten Al Kharitiyat 3-1 in the first round. Meanwhile, Al Arabi rounded off the final four, pipping Al Khor on penalties then defeating Al Ahli 3-0.
The postponed semi-finals see a repeat of last year’s final between Al Duhail and Al Sadd a stage earlier, while Al Markhiya will hope to continue their dream run when they face the side nicknamed ‘The Dream Team’ once football resumes.
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