[written by: Humeid Khan, Riaz Murad & Hashim Ghazi]
With one game left to play, there still remains a LOT to play for. Jerusalem, after a valiant effort to make it close, have nothing but pride to play for on Sunday and face an Andalusian side who looks to be in the midst of a crises in form. Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Sham as they take on Hejaz with a chance, at the shock of most, to qualify for the playoffs with a win. Lastly, Anatolia play Samarra with a chance to capture their first ever #1 seed finish.
Let's get right into it.
JERUSALEM vs ANDALUSIA (8:45PM Field 4)
Jerusalem can't help but rue the poor start to their campaign after a string of strong results for the side in 2020. They looked all the part of post-season quality side in their 7-4 dismantling of Andalusia, much in part to a trio of goals slotted by midseason pickup Nehad Shihab. The side can attributed a lot of their success to Shihab, but we cannot overlook the play of a number of others. Newcomers Abdo Menla and Salim Jarad finally look comfortable in their roles for the side and have been solid on both sides of play for JFC. Also, it seems like we find another reason to bring up the dynamic play of goalkeeper Nabeel Jabbar after every performance. However, for a side that looked deprived of goalscoring ability early in the season (despite an impressive forward pairing of Syed Murtaza Tirmizi and Bassam Basit), slotting seven goals against the top keeper in the League is always a cause worth celebrating. Despite being officially eliminated from the playoffs, the Sky Blues look like a team poised to beat anyone that comes in their past. Though they do not have much to play for, expect these guys to play for another three points in hopes of sliding out of last place. Meanwhile, for as good as Jerusalem have looked in the new year, the same cannot be said for Andalusia. The Spaniards finished the end of 2019 with a commanding 5-0 victory over Sham and sat atop the table. However, the side has yet to win a match in 2020, much in part to the side's inability to field their full squad week after week. The benefit of being short is allowing a supersub in Saad K to come in and do his thing, but his inability to play in the playoffs as a substitute leaves the squad with a gaping hole in midfield. It seems as if the fatigue of asking more of short squads week after week have left the Andalusians a bit flat to close out the season. The good news is that they essentially have already qualified for playoffs (given the large goal difference teams below have to make up), but a good result wouldn't hurt the side's mojo heading into the second season. Expect the side full of veterans to approach this match with playoff intensity in hopes of reversing fortune from their last matchup against Jerusalem and ploughing forward with some positivity en route to their championship quest.
SHAM vs HEJAZ (8:45 Field 3)
It's always exciting when there are stakes in the final game of the season and it could not be any higher for this week's matchup between Hejaz and Sham. You could argue that the playoffs for these two teams start a week early. Taking a look back, it's amazing how these two teams are even at this stage. Four weeks ago, Hejaz was sitting in second place with 11 points and Sham was sitting at the bottom with only 4 points after a crushing defeat to Jerusalem. Make no mistake about it, this will be the match of the week. If Sham wins, they make the semi-finals against all odds. If Hejaz can tie it or capture a win, they'll stumble their way into it despite their recent dip in form. These two teams have faced each other twice, this season and split the matchup. Sham, having defeated the injury-ridden Samarra in a game they needed to win, are in peak form. They have picked up 7 out of 9 possible points in their last three games and if it wasn't for a last-minute Zain Khilji goal and defensive lapse, it would have been 9 of 9. They have finally found a line-up that works and are sticking to it. The defense is compact and the offense has been firing. The combination of two has been able to dig them out of being at the bottom in Goal Difference, which will be used as a tie-breaker if they win this match against Hejaz. The season is on the line for the third straight game for Sham and so far they have been able to rise to the occasion. They need a win this week and can't afford to let Hejaz stick around in the game; they will need to be clinical and put the game away early. Hejaz have struggled to find their dominant form. After the Christmas break, they were looking poised to take the top spot in the league but recent struggles have them fighting for their playoff lives. In their two previous matchups against Sham, Hejaz was missing their talisman Hannan Ahmad who definitely bolsters the offense for them. However, with the suspension of captain Umair Sheikh, they will need to put someone new between the sticks for their most important game of the season. The plan for this week should be to score a goal quickly and play with the lead, putting the pressure on Sham, who have not played from behind in their recent streak of results. A tie is all Hejaz needs, but they should be playing for the win and giving themselves a cushion to work with. What an exciting end to the season this match will be and we cannot wait to watch it.
ANATOLIA vs SAMARRA (9:45PM Field 3)
The last match of the night is the battle of the top two teams in the league, where winner takes top seed for the Playoffs! Anatolia are coming off back to back, and dare we say convincing, wins. They have not lost since Week 6, that being against their opponents this Sunday. They have a healthy squad again and do look like the team that GM Zain Khilji envisioned at the draft, albeit with a couple of changes due to season-ending injuries. However, resiliency is the keyword for this team. They've overcome injuries and absences throughout the season and have a genuine shot at first place after the final game of the season. They'll be missing Shahar Yar, who is serving a one-game suspension due to a red card received in Week 10. That match came with a lot of drama, but Anatolia came up with a convincing win that boosted the team's confidence tenfold. Versatile midfielder Syed Kazmi finally broke through with his first two goals of the season, and a helper on another for the Canaries. He's been like a Swiss-army knife all season, helping whereever and was rewarded with his name routinely showing up on the scoresheet last week. Newcomer Mike Isoufi continues to cause headaches for opponents as have another playmaker to plan for. Fawad Akram is the playmaker Zain had been seeking during his entire career as GM in BISL. He continues to make incredible plays and creates opportunities for the offence. The challenge for Anatolia is going to be to finally beat the one team they've failed to overpower this season. It may help that Samarra is coming off of their first loss of the season amidst the piling on of injuries to their key players. Atif Mian was seen being helped off the pitch last week. We hope he has recovered and is ready for the match this week. GM Junaid Akram has also been playing injured but just like a true leader, played through his injuries to ensure his team is motivated and focused on collecting the squad's third straight trophy. Rookie Aadhil Mohamed's 5-game goal scoring streak came to an end last week as the Redblacks were held to a single goal on a Jibran Sakrani strike. For Samarra to pick themselves up and consider last week's loss as just a blip on the radar, they need to come out with the same intensity they've used against teams that had them as unbeaten until MW10. A result of any kind will clinch top spot for the Samarrans, but a win would undoubtedly put this team back as favourites for silverware. With both teams already securing a playoff spot, you'd think they'd just play this match as a practice for post-season. But first place is up for grabs, so this match undoubtedly features more than just bragging rights on the line.