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2019 Semi-Final Leg #1 Rumours

The season has come to a close, and now the real fun commences. Our fifth regular season featured a back-and-forth between Sham and Samarra for top spot all season, with the red-blacks clinching first place after a 4-3 victory last Sunday. Andalusia eliminated Hejaz after a 5-1 victory while Anatolia put the dagger in Jerusalem to clinch a playoff spot. With the playoff seeds locked up, the league forgoes Super Sunday and goes straight to the playoffs. Hejaz and Jerusalem will play for 5th place at 8:45pm on Field 4 this Sunday. 
 
The Semis will take place at 9pm and 10pm on field 3. Here's how they are shaping up for the remaining four sides.

Andalusia FC vs. Sham FC : First Leg (9:00PM on Field 3)

Previous Matchups: MW3 3 -1 Sham; MW8 2 - 0 for Andalusia
Season Record (Place): Andalusia FC 6-1-3 19 points (3rd), Sham FC 6-2-2 20 points (2th);
GF/GA/GD: Andalusia FC 25/19/6; Sham FC 28/16/12;
Top Goalscorers: Andalusia FC - Omar Sheikh (7); Sham FC - Fawad Akram (9);
Projected Starting VI:
     Andalusia FC - Z. Merchant; O. Ansari, H. Chaudhary; S. Limbada, O. Sheikh; A. Mian
     Sham FC - B. Jeelany; S. Syed, A. Ibn Rehana; A. Alvi, M. Shah; F. Akram


The Andalusia-Sham matchup is a unique one because if you asked the supporters of both these sides a few years ago that they'd be 100 minutes away from the finals, you would face puzzling, even quizzical looks.  Two franchises that often found themselves on the outside looking in (prior to last year, Sham only made the playoffs one time; and Andalusia's sole berth came in 2017) are now facing off with a chance to play for a title.  Though the colours of the kits are not so familiar this late in the playoffs, the players sure are.  Once again, Muhammad Shah faces off against Shaheen Limbada.  The two have never played on the same side despite being good friends off the pitch, and for the fifth consecutive year, take one each other in the playoffs.  Shah holds a 3-1 advantage in the playoffs (Shah is also one of three players in the League to have featured in every BISL Finals to date) against Limbada, but Shaheen knows his opponent better than anyone.  This semi features a matchup similar to the 2017 final, where a Jerusalem side made up of many Andalusians (Omar Sheikh, Atif Mian, Zahid Merchant, Hashim Ghazi and the aforementioned Limbada) won in convincing fashion over a Hejaz side made up of a handful of Shamis (Asif Ibn Rehana, Fawad Akram and the aforementioned Shah). 
 
Both sides exchanged barbs during the season and split the series.  The first matchup featured both sides lacking their GMs, and with Shaheen Limbada out and Fawad Akram leading the line for Sham, the Spaniards had no answer for the Orangemen, as Sham cruised to an easy 3-1 victory.  In the second matchup, it was Sham who was missing an integral piece with Fawad Akram unavailable, and Andalusia put together their most complete performance (something we have seen very little of this season, to be quite honest) of the year in a 2-0 victory.  This one is tough to call - both sides capitalized on their opponents missing key players, and it is tough to say which team will come out on top at full-strength.  On paper, Sham's starting six may be the best to ever feature in the League, but Andalusia's depth has been lauded all season.  Both sides feature game changers at every position.  History appears to be on Sham's side given their recent success (having made the finals last year and sitting at the top of the table for a good chunk of the season), but you'd be remiss to count these Andalusians out just yet.  The first leg may be a chess match for both sides to study what their opponents bring to the table in an effort to capitalize on the weaknesses shown - regardless, we're in for a cagey battle that will have both teams giving it their all for a chance to get one step closer to glory.
 
Here are the predictions of two of our GMs: 
 
Taqi picks Sham: 1st leg 2-0 Sham; 2nd Leg 0-0 
Sham are a solid all round team.  i think this match up wont have that much goals and the team that has better finishing will come out on top.  Fawad and Alvi chemistry may prove too much for andalusia team. Andalusia will struggle to score as they rely a lot on Omar for offense.  their solid as a team tho defensively and well organized so they can try to make it into a grinding match and hope they can finish.  They are the Athletico Madrid of this league. The key player for Andalusia is Shaheen.  When he plays with emotion he turns into an elite offensive powerhouse.  This goes along with his already solid work rate and defensive contribution.
 
Saqib picks Sham: 1st leg 1-1 Draw; 2nd Leg 2-0 Sham
As Taqi alluded to above Andalusia are tough to play against but beyond Omar it's hard to see where goals come from. If only they had someone solid at the back from which they could springboard overloaded attacks with little fear of getting hit on the break, say someone seasoned in the league with a DPOY award (cough Atif cough), they may have a chance to make up the offensive mismatch. Sham are the favourites to advance and between Shah, Fawad and Alvi it's tough to see any team standing in their way.

Anatolia FC vs. Samarra FC : First Leg (10:00PM on Field 3)

Previous Matchups: MW1 4-3 for Samarra FC; MW6 3-2 for Anatolia FC
Season Record (Place): Anatolia FC 4-0-6 (4th); Samarra FC 8-0-2 (1st)
GF/GA/GD: Anatolia FC 27/32/-5; Samarra FC 29/15/14
Top Goalscorers: Anatolia FC - Zain Khilji (8); Samarra FC - Jibran Sakrani(10)
Projected Starting VI: 
     Anatolia FC - U. Sheikh; H. Ayubi, H. Masood; J. Akram, Z. Khilji, A. Akhtar
     Samarra FC - H. Syed; S. Ahmad, S. Khan; O. El-Askalany, D. Khan; J. Sakrani
 
While all clubs would prefer a 2-legged semis, Samarra will be thrilled they can skip super Sunday and get straight to business as they look to defend their championship and keep the cup on Samarian soil. The team are coming off a huge win against the ‘other’ title favorites, Sham, in a playoff intensity type of match as they couldn’t have asked for better practice going into the semis. Anatolia on the other hand, squeezed through a 3-2 win against a 6-man Jerusalem squad and did not look very convincing for a playoff team. They do deserve to be one however, it will come down to how they respond to the intensity of the playoffs.
 
Anatolia has never made it past the semis and have always looked like a team that only want to score goals regardless of the situation. They are a team that play fast attacking football with the expense of a lax defensive policy. We don’t expect anything different from them this game, but the league knows if they are able to align their pieces, they can be an unstoppable force. The Anatolian goalkeeper has been phenomenal this season and with key position conversions they have the ability to shut out oppositions. The stars will shine regardless, but in the playoffs, Anatolia will need to come up with a way to put in a complete team performance from all areas of the pitch.
Samarra have been a powerhouse all season and though they could be vulnerable at the back at times, their control in possession rarely exposes them. The ‘Big 3’ are often talked about and their influence on all facets of the beautiful game have taken them apart from the rest of the teams at BISL. The supporting cast has been present at all times and have glued the gaps to support their attacking style of play; one that described as powerful more than clever, which is definitely more difficult to stop. Having the quality playoff and championship experience, we expect them to have a stronger hold of it over their opponents. Our pundits seem to think so as well. Although they have didn’t have much to separate them in the previous 2 season matches (4-3 Samarra, 4-3 Anatolia), Samarra will be given the benefit of the doubt. There is no doubt however, this matchup will be full of goals and one for the history books.
 
Here are the predictions of two of our GMs:
 
Taqi picks Samarra: 1st Leg:4-2 Samarra; 2nd Leg - 1-1 Draw
Samarra offense too much for anatolia defense.  Anatolia should sit back and counter to take advantage of weak Samara Defense. Containing the big 3 of Samarra will be tough as they can easily beat their man 1 vs 1 and create something out of nothing. Zain and Junaid have provided steady offense but i think Abdullah Akhtar's performance will decide if Anatolia go through.  When hes on his game, Anatolia play solid free flowing attacking football.
 
Saqib picks Samarra: 1st Leg: 3-2 Samarra; 2nd Leg 3-3 Draw
I think both teams match up well offensively (Anatolia has a big 3 as well don't forget) but it's gonna come down to which team defends better. Although on paper Samarra seem to have the advantage based on points and league standing, if Anatolia can make an adjustment or two tactically they can contain their opponents firepower and hit them on the break. I predict a close tie with the odd goal deciding this one.
 
The first leg of the semis kicks off this Sunday. It all starts at 9:00PM. LET’S GO.