[written by: Muhammad Shah, Saqib Dadabhoy & Hashim Ghazi]
Last week we saw two surprise results, and dare we say upsets, as Andalusia beat Anatolia and Hejaz held Samarra to a draw. Andalusia looks the most likely to move on through if they can put in a solid defensive shift, while Hejaz have Samarra right where they want them heading into the penultimate match before the Finals. Two of these teams will be sent home tomorrow and it's anyone's guess as to who will be playing a week from Sunday.
Just a reminder for all the newcomers, the team that has won the tie on aggregate over the two legs will move on to the Finals. In the event of a draw after both matches, it will go straight to penalties. There is no extra time and there is no away goals rule. Now, onto the rumours for this week.
#1 SAMARRA vs #4 HEJAZ (8:45PM Field 3) - First Leg: HEJ 1 - 1 SAM
In a season where these two teams found themselves in top spot or close to it all season, it comes down to a final 50 minutes to see who goes through to the Finals. As mentioned last week, both of these clubs have storied pasts, with Hejaz being the dominant force in BISL in years 1-3 and Samarra taking up the throne in years 4-6. Both have two championships to their name. Both have seen lows to match their highs. But only one will go through to the Finals.
The playoffs suit the style of play of Hejaz to a T, and we saw that first hand in the matchup last week. Hejaz never looked out of sorts despite the attacking presence of Samarra. In fact, Hejaz actually outstot Samarra 19-14 in the matchup and looked to control the match. The Samarrans opened up the scoring through their dynamic duo up front, as Jibran Sakrani provided an assist to Aadhil Mohamed's first postseason goal of his career, and surely not hte last. However, that starting five of Hejaz once again put on a two-way clinic, mustering up all 19 of the sides shots. The key breakthrough to level it up came as a result of a key pass from Hamza Waheed to set up Hannan Ahmed for the Lilywhites and come through with a draw that management would no doubt be happy about. If Hejaz employ the same approach (much like they did against Sham in the final game of the season) and sit back and counter, frustrating their opponent and in turn capitalizing on their mistakes, we will see the boys in white reach the finals for the first time since 2017. However, with all the talent in Samarra, we can't count them out just yet. In a winner-takes-all matchup, it is tough to go against the top team in the League who, when at their best, are clearly better than any one squad in the League. This one is too close to call, so we thought to bring in some help to give their predictions - that being Muhammad Shah (Sham GM) and Saqib Dadabhoy (Jerusalem GM). Here are their thoughts.
Shah: I think Hejaz have demonstrated the best teamwork this season. They will need to work together more than ever if they want to score and protect the lead. But, I'm tipping my hat to Samarra to proceed to the finals. The holy trinity of Junaid, Jibran and Aadhil will be too hot to handle. Besides, Aadhil just has too much sauce.
Saqib: I'm on the fence for this one. Samarra look better on paper but Hejaz have shown they’re not averse to striking early and defending a lead. That being said, they need to score first. If Samarra scores first, I think Hejaz will have no choice but to attack, leaving more space for Samarra’s attackers to run at the D. Whoever scores first wins.
#2 ANATOLIA vs #3 ANDALUSIA (9:45PM Field 3) - First Leg: AND 3 - 1 ANA
Unlike the storied success of the teams in the other matchup, both of these teams are looking to write a new chapter in their history books. Neither of these sides have ever played in the Finals, though both feature a number of players who have lifted silverware in their own right.
Last week, a majority of supporters all but wrote off Andalusia to make any noise in the postseason without having their super-sub Saad K to rely on. However, you can never count out a side led by GM Omar Sheikh, who pocketed a crucial goal to propel his team to a convincing 3-1 win. Despite the game looking somewhat favourable to Anatolia given the number of shots they put on target, the scoreline definitely proved otherwise. After an up-and-down season, Omar El Askalany saved his best performance for when it counted most, providing a goal and an assist on the evening. Salman Siddiqui, a man known for scoring his goals when his team needs them the most, put the icing on the cake late to give his team a much-needed two goal cushion heading into the second leg. However, Anatolia were not down and out of this one. The squad kept pouring on the offense, with 28 shots on the day, but only had one goal to show for it as Mike Isoufi played in Fawad Akram for a first half goal to take an early lead. Keeper Jibran Waqar did what he's done all season for the Royals though, and did all he could to keep his team in the tie - FOURTEEN saves. This is the sort of performance that Andalusia showed frequently in the first half of the season, and gives them heavy momentum heading into Leg 2. It will be interesting to see how Anatolia GM Zain Khilji changes his tactics this coming Sunday. Being down a pair of goals, they will have to keep the pedal to the metal, but at the same time, if the Spaniards strike first, the Canaries may be stuck in a coal mine they won't be able to get out of. Let's see what Muhammad and Saqib have to say about this one.
Saqib: I think Andalusia have enough of a lead plus the experience and hustle to close out the second leg and make it to their first ever finals. That being said, if there’s any team that can overturn a deficit it’s Anatolia, what with all their attacking prowess.
Shah: Andalusia are looking like favorites to go through the finals. Although, I wouldn't count out the individual brilliance of Fawad or Zain. I think if Anatolia can score one goal, the flood gates will open. Let's see if Andalusia can keep their defensive shape.