[written by: Hashim Ghazi]
FINALS: #4 HEJAZ vs #2 ANATOLIA (8:45PM Field 3)
And then there were two. After two very intense second-legs, the Canaries take on Los Blancos. Two teams with relatively different styles face off to see who is crowned champion in our most competitive season yet. Both of these teams have been battled tested throughout the season and have the personnel and steel to play in the most intense of affairs. Whoever is crowed victor will no doubt deserve it, as Hejaz take on Anatolia in this year’s BISL Finals.
GM: Taqi Ahmed (2nd Year as GM)
Regular Season Record (W-D-L, Pts, GD): 5-2-4, 17 pts, -9 GD
How They Got Here: defeated Samarra 4-2 on aggregate
Projected Starting VI (* denotes All-BISL): U. Sheikh; H. Ayubi*, F. Butt*; N. Rehman*, T. Ahmed; H. Ahmed
Lead Goalscorer: Nasir Rehman (7 goals)
Lead Assist Man: Nasir Rehman/Hannan Ahmed (4 assists)
Team MVP: Nasir Rehman
Team X-Factor: Farhan Butt
Team Finals Appearances: 3 (2015, 2016, 2017)
Team Championships: 2 (2015, 2016)
Previous Champions on Finals Squad: 4 – F. Azmat (2017), H. Ayubi (2018), U. Ashraf (2018, 2019)
Hejaz had an “us against the world” attitude since the beginning of the season and it seemed like that narrative only furthered with every passing week. The only guys that really believed that they had what it takes to make it this far was GM Taqi Ahmed and the players dressed in white on Sundays. It is that kind of attitude that builds character and chemistry amongst a team and it is that exact attitude and belief that brought them to the Finals.
After controlling a strong Samarra attack in the first leg, Hejaz stayed poised on limiting the chances for their opponents in Leg 2 en route to a convincing 3-1 win where the result never looked in doubt. Both Nasir Rehman and Farhan Butt scored a goal and provided a helper, and the icing on the cake to put it away was courtesy of none other than team architect and GM Taqi Ahmed. Over the two legs, Hejaz looked like the better team, and particularly in the second leg, it was not even close.
Taqi Ahmed has created a side that plays to its strengths and gives up very little to its opponents. Nasir Rehman has been the team MVP this season but we can’t ignore others. Hannan Ahmed has been a force in his first year in the league, as has defender Farhan Butt. Veteran Hussam Ayubi has played every position for the side and is willing to do what it takes for his team to win. The team is led by captain and keeper Umair Sheikh who has had yet another solid campaign between the sticks for his side. The team relies on contributions from every area of the pitch and though we give a lot of love to their starters, we can’t ignore how important the guys off the bench in Furhan Azmat, Hamza Waheed, Mustafa Tirmizi and Umair Ashraf are in terms of keeping that intensity high and continue to play Hejaz’s brand of football when called upon. After a number of question marks surrounding the side after the draft, Taqi and his squad have proved doubters wrong again and again and sit 50 minutes from capturing Hejaz’s third ever League title (and the first under the new regime).
GM: Zain Khilji (6th year as GM)
Regular Season Record (W-D-L, Pts, GD): 4-5-2, 17 pts, +11 GD
How They Got Here: Defeated Andalusia 5-5 (3-2 on pens) on aggregate
Projected Starting VI (* denotes All-BISL): Z. Merchant*; K. Jawadi, S. Yar; M. Isoufi, F. Akram*, Z. Khilji*
Lead Goalscorer: Zain Khilji (9 goals)
Lead Assist Man: Fawad Akram (10 assists)
Team MVP: Fawad Akram
Team X-Factor: Komayl Jawadi
Team Finals Appearances: 0
Team Championships: 0
Previous Champions on Finals Squad: 2 – A. Chawdhry (2015), Z. Merchant (2017)
Meanwhile, while the history books for Hejaz contain pages and pages of team success, the pages for Anatolia remain relatively thin. In fact, there is not even a chapter titled “BISL Finals” because they always came up short. However, GM Zain Khilji had a different approach to building his side this year. Zain opted for veteran, versatile guys that can play multiple positions and have the type high IQ you want in a champion side to see through tactical masterclasses.
That sort of masterclass was on display first-hand in the second leg of the semis, as the Canaries put up three quick goals and steadied the ship after their opponents came back to take the match to penalties. They kept their composure and saw out victory in the shootout to punch their ticket to the Finals. Mike Isoufi had big shoes to fill for the Canaries upon joining the side, and after a hat trick performance, filled them admirably. The constantly threatening Fawad Akram pitched in a goal and two assists himself in the second leg that helped them go through.
This team has battled the injury bug all season and despite a rash of injuries that saw top players miss time and withdraw from the League, the Turks remained composed and continued to push on. With all due respect to Anatolian squads of past, this has been the best defensive side to ever suit up in Yellow. In fact, the team gave up the least number of goals on the season. Much of that credit goes to keeper Zahid Merchant and the primary defensive pairing of Komayl Jawadi and Shahar Yar. The midfield trio of GM Zain Khilji, #1 pick and top point-getter Fawad Akram and rookie Mike Isoufi take up different positions across the pitch and interchange fluidly, leaving opposing defences guessing as to who will set up or finish off the goal. Like their final’s opponents, this team is not just six men deep as the depth of the squad and collective high soccer IQ is a key to their success. Despite the razzle and dazzle of the stars, it’s guys like Arshad Chawdhry, Hasan Afzal, Riaz Murad and Syed Kazmi that win you championships. Anatolia have all the pieces needed to win a championship and now see themselves with a chance to raise silverware for the first time ever this coming Sunday.
Under the bright lights of Jean Vanier dome on Sunday, only one team will be crowned champions. Anatolia had the advantage during the season, drawing the first matchup 1-1 and winning the second 5-1; the last matchup especially had some fireworks that remain fresh in the minds of both sides. However, as we all know, the regular season cannot compare to the playoffs, and Hejaz have looked like the best side in the postseason thus far. So who will it be – Hejaz or Anatolia? Let’s see what the opposing GMs are saying:
Saqib Dadabhoy, GM of Jerusalem: HEJ 1-2 ANA | MOTM: ANA Zain Khilji
Muhammad Shah, GM of Sham: HEJ 2-1 ANA | MOTM: HEJ Nasir Rehman
Omar Sheikh, GM of Andalusia: HEJ 2-1 ANA | MOTM: HEJ Umair Sheikh
Junaid Akram, GM of Samarra: HEJ 1-2 ANA | MOTM: ANA Fawad Akram
Evidently, it's a toss up as to who will come out on top but expect a high-intensity affair between two teams that are willing to give their all to raise the cup. Good luck to both sides and may the best team win.
[Editor’s Note: this is our last formal write-up of the season and I just wanted to say thank you to all the readers and supporters of the Rumours. This would not have been possible without our amazing team of writers, so all the credit goes to Bassam Basit, Humeid Khan, Riaz Murad, Umair Ashraf and Zain Khilji for their contributions throughout the year – our best year of content yet!]