Jerusalem FC vs. Sham FC (8:45PM on Field 3)
Gone are superstar Omar Sheikh and captain Zahid Merchant, but Jerusalem kept part of their identity intact with a GM core of Shaheen Limbada and Saqib Dadabhoy complemented by last year's steal of the draft Atif Mian. The sky blues still have some kinks to work out as they seemed to lack chemistry, but that can be said about every team in week one. Their talent alone makes them a favourite week in, week out, and this week proves to be no different against upstart Sham FC. Shaheen Limbada’s intensity is tangible, and the team feeds off his competitive spirit. Surely Limbada & Co. weren’t thrilled with only a point last week in their first match as defending champs, and look poised to make a statement in Matchweek Two. Jerusalem had (in this committee of one’s opinion) the best draft, putting together a side that is balanced and versatile. Rookie Basil Jeelany looks like a veteran between the sticks, having played ‘keeper at five different levels growing up. Add in midfield maestro and self-proclaimed “fastest player in the league” Numair Bari, and you have a team that can beat you in many ways, and may even compare, on paper, to the team that won it all last year. There is still a lot of football to be played, and JFC look ready to reclaim their throne and remind the league that they are the team to beat in Matchweek Two.
It's only been a week, but one thing is for sure - this is not the Sham you've grown accustom to in years past. With a new identity built around one of the best to ever lace them up in BISL in Muhammad Shah, a new face took all the spotlight in week one. Affectionately known as 'the Turk' by his team, Erdinc Simsek joined as a replacement for the injured Syed G Hussain mere days before match week one. Simsek was a huge gamble for the orange to take, but GMs Shah and Junaid Akram figured they'd Roll the dice and see what the Miltonian had to offer. We found out almost immediately, as his deft touches, clever runs, and knowledge of the game silenced even the biggest skeptics. And that was before ~the goal~. Simsek gathered the ball, saw his opposing keeper out of position and laced a blinder off the post and into the net. Not bad for a guy that was a shot in the dark, eh? Factor in that the goal was scored FROM HALF, and you think as to how this guy was available in the first place. Has Muhammad Shah uncovered another diamond in the rough? It seems like every year he manages to pick up a difference maker that pays immediate dividends. We'll see if Erdinc continues to build on his reputation in a big matchup against reigning champ Jerusalem FC this week.
Samarra FC vs. Hejaz FC (8:45PM on Field 4)
YO WHO ARE THESE SAMARRA CATS? A team known for their defensive approach to the game showed up looking for blood this past Sunday, scoring a whopping SEVEN goals on twenty-five shots, both setting club records. To put this in context, Samarra scored ten goals all season a few years back. Chiseled-and-grizzled GM Umer Jabbar must be smiling ear-to-ear after hearing about the result, which only adds to the happiness he’s feeling from his upcoming nuptials (congratulations, bro!). The team put on a clinic, led by young gun Khizer Shahzad’s hat trick, and newcomer Syed Murtaza Tirmizi’s brace. With Jabbar missing the rest of the calendar year, and veteran All-Star Zahid Merchant withdrawing from the league due to injury, the question remains as to which one of these upright young men will take the leadership role on the team and keep the team focused? Typically, we would rely on “the holy grail of thel” Umair Jabbar, but he isn’t taking part in the League this year either (and also recently got engaged – these Jabbars maaaan, such hopeless romantics). Maybe it won’t be one guy but rather a collective presence where each man holds the other accountable to bring the best out of the squad. We all know these guys have the talent to win the championship, and we definitely see them being a headache for opposing defences for weeks to come.
There were a lot of question marks surrounding Hejaz heading into Season 4. Many wondered how much the identity of the team would change with Muhammad Shah out of the mix, but if GM Ibrahim Sardar could choose anyone in the league to replace the focal point of his offense, it would have been his AGM Fawad Akram. Akram possesses the same razzmatazz so typically seen in the Hejaz number ten role, and has a great eye for goal to boot. He suffered a serious hand injury in the opening week, but the pain did not seem to affect him; with a homemade tape job, he was able to withstand the injury and contributed to all three goals in the 3-3 draw with Jerusalem. However, Fawad felt like the injury was more serious than he first hoped for, and his prognosis was correct; Akram now sports a cast to repair a broken finger, but remains confident that he will be able to suit up this weekend. Los Blancos sport a lot of new faces, but as always, the man known as AK continues to put in quality shifts in midfield after working out his kinks pregame with a fuchsia spiked-apparatus of sorts. The Hejazis, like their rivals Jerusalem, still have some chemistry issues to sort out, but we count on them being a force throughout the season in hopes of regaining their title they lost last year.
Anatolia FC vs. Andalusia FC (9:45PM on Field 3)
Anatolia held the top pick of the draft, in what has become a routine occurrence year after year, and shocked the league with selecting newcomer Nasir Rehman with the first pick. Rehman came into the league with a lot of hype, and though the move surprised the league at large, the GMs were not in the slightest after seeing the chemistry Rehman struck up with GM Zain Khilji during the pickup game. Rehman did not disappoint in his debut, netting two goals and showing a strong presence in canary yellow. Also, we still cannot believe Nehad Shihab only took one shot. A man who literally shoots when given even a sliver of an opening only took one. Perhaps Shihab did not find it necessary to put his laces through the ball as often because the team looked dangerous in the final third. Typically, a team scoring four goals would be pretty satisfied with their performance, but not so much when they give up seven. Anatolia continue to be out of sorts at the back, leaving stalwart goalkeeper Umair Sheikh subject to way too many shots. Though the shot stopper is more than capable of keeping his team in the match with his abilities, I am sure he would appreciate someone, ANYONE, to close down opposing forwards and not offer so many clear-cut chances. Let’s see if they can provide more balance next week and come away with three points.
Andalusia, after having their most successful campaign last year, saw their two best players from last year miss out on the season as a whole this year, and brought in former Golden Boot winner Humeid Masood to lead the line. Humeid was generally kept in check against Sham, but showed glimpses of his work rate and individual ability when called upon. Masood did suffer a hamstring injury last that worried GM Junaid Mirza, but he is said to be healing well and looks ready for this weekend’s matchup. Andalusia’s performance left a lot to be desired, but Mirza chalks it up to it being first week jitters rather than a true indication of the team’s character. We side with Junaid’s assessment, and know a team featuring the likes of Furhan Azmat, Shaharyar Khan and Taqi Ahmed will see their fair share of wins this season. Andalusia also went with a fresh face in their first round, selecting defender Altamash Khan with the fourth overall pick. Khan’s imposing presence at 6’2 190lbs showcases his size and strength as the rock of the blues defence. Adding his brawn to the beauty of Sheraz Choudhry on the ball, and you’d think these guys are the second coming of Vidic and Rio. The Blues look to avenge their poor showing in week one, and fancy their chances against Anatolia in a few day’s time.
Week two is upon us – let’s see who’s got it figured out and who still remains out of sorts.