[written by: Humeid Khan, Riaz Murad & Hashim Ghazi]
In the penultimate weekend of the season, no team has been officially eliminated from the playoffs. However, things may look very differently come 10:45PM on Sunday. Jerusalem need more or less of a miracle (winning both their matches, Anatolia losing both their matches, and somehow making up a 16 goal differential in the process), while the same can more or less said about Sham (Sham have to win outright as well and have a huge goal differential to make up of their own to make up, not to mention the fact that they play the undefeated first place Samarra this weekend). Meanwhile, only Samarra has punched their ticket for postseason glory, as Hejaz and Andalusia just need a point from their remaining two games to clinch as well. That leaves Anatolia, who need either Sham to not win Sunday or to beat Hejaz to confirm their spot. It's all but certain which four teams will be making the playoffs, but we at BISL love a little drama when it comes down to the wire. Before continuing, we have a transaction to announce:
Shaheen Limbada, BISL star and jack-of-all-trades, has been forced to withdraw from Anatolia FC and has been replaced by Mike Isoufi. We hope to see Shaheen on the pitch next season and welcome newcomer Mike to the League.
The deadline to make roster changes as a result of injury was on January 20, and the team squads are now locked in. Onto the rumours.
SAMARRA vs SHAM (8:45 Field 4)
It took nine weeks but Samarra's undefeated streak has finally given them sole ownership of the top spot in the League. Week in and week out, this team has performed and looks poised to go the entire length of the regular season without a loss, something that's only been done once in BISL history. They have the best offense in the L by a wide margin and have the best GAGF. This team is for real and last week's match proved they are capable of rising to the occasion. The match again Andalusia was an intense battle between two teams to see who could create some separation at the top. The Aadhil Mohamed and Jibran Sakrani combination once again came out on top scoring two goals in a tightly contested game. There were some injuries in last week's match and we hope that everyone had time to recover and be ready for the last stretch here. The pick your poison game plan that Samarra has implemented has been a difficult problem for defenses to figure out. If you try and focus on Jibran and Aadhil, you'll find Junaid Akram and Atif Mian salivating at the opportunity to capitalize on the lack of attention shown their way. This team is a tough out, and their record shows it. Sham for the first time this season put in a dominant performance many expected to see from the start of the season. Khizer Shahzad's hattrick seemed effortless as he was able to make sure that Sham walked away from this match with three points. What has been different about this Sham team in their last two games has been their defense. The shortened rotation in the backline of Asif Ibn Rehana, Ahmad "Purple K" Alvi, and Hashim Ghazi has stabilized the defense and given Sham its identity as a defensive stalwart back. Saif Syed's new role between the sticks has been magnificent and they'll need continued excellence in his play if they can come up with a win against Samarra. Not to be overlooked has been the contribution of Salman Ahmad. A tireless worker when called upon, Salman's energy and ability to press from the front has proved to be a difference maker for the Orangemen, and he has carved out a niche role in the side that has paid dividends in both the team's wins. The game plan for Sham this week will be defense first. They can't be leaking away goals to Samarra because if the boys in black see an opening, they will take full advantage of it. The defense will need to once again keep it tight and feed GM Muhammad Shah and Khizer so they can get the three crucial points. It's win or bust for Sham, let's see if they cal pull off the upset.
ANATOLIA vs HEJAZ (8:45PM Field 3)
Anatolia find themselves in the precarious position of being all but certain to make the playoffs, yet being far from safe. In their matchup against Jerusalem last week, they netted a pair of goals and kept a clean sheet to get a much deserved win. Goalkeeper Zahid Merchant called it their best performance of the season, with the Canaries being in control from start to finish and never looking like the game was out of reach. There was concern in the void in leadership, versatility and skill left by Shaheen Limbada's forced withdrawal from the League, but the squad have found a quality replacement in Mike Isoufi who controlled the tempo of the match in midfield and even chipped with a goal on his debut. With Isoufi contributing in the midfield, it was Komayl Jawadi showing character and dominance in the backfield, as the rookie put in a Man of the Match performance starting in defence. However, the yellow submarine isn't in the clear yet; they will rest easy if they can collect some points against Hejaz this week. The Turks winning the match will confirm their spot in the playoffs, while a draw will all but confirm their invitation to the second season as well. Meanwhile, Hejaz looked like a shade of their dominant selves against Sham last week en route to a 3-0 loss. The boys in white could not beat out Sham's defence, and though they had a couple of chances, they weren't as clear cut as what we're used to seeing from this side. The side has now lost two matches in a row, which, despite a small sample size, must have GM Taqi Ahmed wondering what he can do to fix it. Without talisman Hannan Ahmed, the side needs to rely on other players to score goals. Nasir Rehman has done his share, but there's only so much that can be asked of their engine. The last match saw Hussam Ayubi take up positions in the front line, and though the scoreline did not show it, Ayubi did create some chances and kept opposing defenders on alert. We'll see what they come up this week if Ahmed is forced to miss another week. Hejaz only need a point over the next two matches to confirm their playoff berth, so all is not lost. What the side needs to do is continue to maintain that defense first philosophy in hopes of Hannan returning to full fitness by the time the playoffs come. With the numerous breaks in between matches, the extra time off to recover in between matches may be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Hejazis.
ANDALUSIA vs JERUSALEM (9:45 Field 4)
It was a game of chances missed and a chance lost for Andalusia in Week 9. Needing to get a W in the match against a team they were tied with on points for a chance to reclaim top spot, the Spaniards came up fairly short with many missed opportunities. GM Omar Sheikh had a pretty rough day and was seen concerned, pacing the sidelines a lot. The Royal Blues gave up two soft goals that they would love to get back. Their defense seemed to be wanting to score goals rather than defend their own, with Owais Ansari missing three crucial chances, including one at the goal line that he's still having nightmares about. With forward Asif Ali out until the playoffs and Salman Siddiqui nursing bruises, the Andalusian forward contingent is looking shaken at the moment. It'll take the entire squad to dig deep and give it their all in MW10 to keep themselves in contention for the top spot with two more matches to play. They'll have to go through a frustrated Jerusalem side, who lost an opportunity to keep their playoff hopes alive after being clean-sheeted against Anatolia. After some promising performances the last few weeks that saw them get out of the basement and have a shot at a playoff spot, the Sky Blues reverted to the habits they had picked up earlier in the season. Jerusalem struggled to get many chances with veteran Nehad Shihab having a couple of quality chances that either went wide or were saved by the goalie. Apart from that, Jerusalem struggled to control possession of the ball for most of the match. GM Saqib Dadabhoy had a long chat with the team, keeping them motivated for the last 2 weeks of the season. Although the score line read 2-0, the JFC defense kept their opponent at bay for much of the game. And whatever they couldn't stop, goalkeeper Nabeel Jabbar was there to ensure the match was kept tight. For the most part, their defense held up well against a high powered offensive opponent; it was their offense that fell short of ensuring they're in contention for the playoffs. With two highly motivated teams highlighting the final match of the night, it's anyone's guess who'll come out on top.