2019 Finals Preview

After a season that showed both teams dominate their regular season, we have Samarra facing off against Sham for the second year in a row in the finals. Both sides faced their own challenges throughout the year and had their ups and downs, but after the finishing regular season as seeds 1 and 2, they find themselves head-to-head in the finals again. Samarra got the best of Sham last year, but will history repeat itself? Let's see how they match up. 

Tale of the Tape

Previous Matchups: 
          MW5 1 -0 for Sham FC
          MW10 4 - 3 for Samarra FC
          2018 Championship 2 - 1 for Samarra FC
Season Record (Place): Samarra FC 8-0-2 24 points (1st); Sham FC 6-2-2 20 points (2nd)
Semi Final Result:
          Samarra FC 4 - 3 Anatolia FC agg. (Leg 1: 3-1 Samarra win; Leg 2: 2-1 Samarra loss)
          Sham FC 6 - 2 Andalusia FC agg. (Leg 1: 2-2 draw; Leg 2: 4-0 Sham win)
GF/GA/GD: Samarra FC 29/15/14; Sham FC 28/16/12
Top Goalscorers: Samarra FC - Jibran Sakarani (10); Sham FC - Fawad Akram (9)
Recent Form: Samarra FC - LWWWW; Sham FC - WDLWL
Projected Starting VI (* denotes All-BISL Team honourees):
          Samarra FC - H. Syed*; S.Khan, U. Jabbar; D. Khan*, O. El-Askalany*; J. Sakarani
          Sham FC - B. Jeelany; S. Syed, A. Ibn Rehana*; M. Shah*, A. Alvi; F. Akram*

Two of our rumour writers had the (dis)pleasure of facing each one of these teams in the semi-finals, and have their thoughts of which team will be lifting the cup this Sunday.  Let's hear what they have to say:
Zain Khilji - Rumours Writer and GM of Anatolia
With the momentum from last game, Sham looks more likely to go all the way having won 4-0 against a very organized side. Samarra on the other hand barely held on to advance; also losing their last game 2-1. With Fawad Akram back playing at his best, I feel it makes the Sham forwards so much more dangerous. Danish Khan was great in the semis but really needs his team to support him in carrying the ball. Omar El-Askalany needs to take on more responsibility in the midfield if they are to retain possession from Sham. When Jibran Sakrani plays the false 9 (comes deep into the midfield), it adds another dimension to Samarra’s play and they need to take advantage of any strengths they holster. I expect Sham to have a hold on the game from the start and with solid all-round play from the team, I expect Sham to take the cup 3-1.
Final Score Prediction: Sham 3 - 1 Samarra
Hashim Ghazi - Rumours Writer and member of Andalusia FC
I was fortunate enough to play with Shah, Asif, Alvi and co. last year in the Finals.  The team came off another big win in the second-leg of the semis, and had the apparent momentum going the Championship as well, but fell deceivingly flat.  Not to take away from Samarra because they earned that victory, but Sham definitely put their best foot forward and it showed.  This year feels different. Muhammad Shah and Asif Ibn Rehana have now lost two finals in a row, and knowing their desire to win, I am sure they will do everything they can as individuals to prevent it from being three.  Their will to win is nearly unmatched in the League, and they use their intensity and grit to always keep their opponents on their toes.  Also, Fawad Akram seemed to have tailed off after starting hot in the first few weeks.  Let me tell you though, the Fawad we played last week was absolute class.  He was everywhere and had his way with our defense.  There was no stopping him and he was the main reason why Sham won so comfortably.  Saif Syed also had his best game of the season as well when it counted most, and knowing his championship pedigree, he knows how to turn it up when the stakes are high.  That's not to count out Samarra though, who deservedly came top of the table this year.  We hear a lot about their front three, and they give you every reason to talk about them given their combination of speed, touch and finishing, but their defense is what really does it for me.  The ability for Umair Ashraf, Shahahryar Khan and Umer Jabbar to play a high line knowing goalie Hassan Syed can sweep it up behind them gives them an edge in that regard.  Also, do we forget that Sheraz Choudhry was the best defender in the League when Hejaz went undefeated in 2016? He has all the tools you want in a defender and may be the x-factor in this matchup.  The depth of Samarra across the board may be too much for the Orange to handle.  Lastly, scarily, Danish Khan has gotten better after an MVP season - nobody imposes more fear in a defender with the ball at his feet and space to work with.  The Redblacks just have too much to offer over a 50 minute stretch.  All that makes it sound like I would go with Samarra, right? Wrong.  I can't see Shah and Ibn Rehana losing a third finals in a row, and I think Shah personally has got a little more to play for this year.  I may be biased, but I see the tangerines avenging their loss from last year in the best final we've had since Year 1. 
Final Score Prediction: Sham 3 - 3 Samarra, Sham win on penalties.
There you have it - both pundits have Sham going through.  I am sure Samarra love the sound of that, and will be using this as bulletin board material.  Sham went in with all the momentum last year and showed they were way below their opponents.  We'll find out who takes the crown this Sunday.