It has been another busy year for football in the Arab world and there is no better time to look back on the best of 2021.
Player of the Year: Mohamed Salah
Where to start with the Liverpool star? After several memorable years in Europe, he had another. The forward’s consistency is as impressive as some of the goals he has scored season after season he has produced on the biggest stages of all. This year he has scored 23 goals in the English Premier League as the Reds finish 2021 able to fight for another title. There have also been 10 goals in the UEFA Champions League.
Many felt, and not just in the Arab world, that the 29-year-old should have won the Ballon d’Or instead of Lionel Messi. Finishing seventh is not to be sneezed at, but does not accurately reflect Salah’s performance in England and Europe. This season in particular he can claim to be the best player in his current form and if he performs this well in 2022, both Liverpool and Egypt could have another year to remember.
Team of the Year: Al-Ahly
The Cairo club has entered the history of the CAF Champions League. Real Madrid had to wait 12 years for their 10th continental title, but Al-Ahly won nine and 10 in just 12 months, beating Kaizer Chiefs in the final. Then there was a third place at the FIFA Club World Cup and a victory over South American champions Palmeiras.
The Egyptian giants lost the national title to their deadly rivals Zamalek, but given their commitments elsewhere, it was not surprising. In the end, they just had too much ground, in terms of points and games, to catch up as Zamalek could focus on the league. Al-Ahly gave it his all and at one point he had the leaders in his sights. It wasn’t, although the new season went well with an already famous 5-3 win over Zamalek.
Game of the Year: Japan 0-1 Oman
Oman are a team that don’t often make the headlines in the football world, but they had a fantastic result in September. By going to the home of the best team in Asia, nobody gave the Reds a chance against the Samurai Blue, especially since it was the first game of the last qualifying round for the World Cup.
Organized Oman was not just there to do numbers. They produced a mature counterattacking football performance that deserved to take all three points. It should have caused a bigger wave across the world but it has certainly been noticed in Asian football. He announced that Oman was a force to be reckoned with in the Arab world and this was reinforced by a strong performance in the Arab Cup.
Coach: Pitso Mosimane
It is predictable to choose the coach who led the team that won the CAF Champions League but Mosimane made history. Triumph isn’t all about bringing a great team at a big price.
The South African had to overcome a lot of obstacles. Al-Ahly once had coaches outside of Egypt, but they came from Europe. Here, however, a man from elsewhere in Africa occupied one of the hottest places in the world of football. There were a lot of beards from former players and other club legends, but Mosimane kept his dignity and handed out a huge prize.
Controversy of the Year: 19 minutes
In December, Qatar and Algeria met in the semi-finals of the FIFA Arab Cup. At the end of the 90 minutes, Algeria was leading 1-0. Then, the fourth official posted a table showing nine minutes of added time.
There were hiccups around the stadium followed by cheers from home fans as they realized Qatar had ample time to equalize and there were disbelieving looks from the Algerian bench. There had been saves but no major injuries and five, maybe a maximum of six minutes were expected. That was only half the story.
Qatar scored after 97 minutes, spawning instant online conspiracy theories that the hosts were being helped. They were rewritten when Algeria received a penalty and scored it 10 minutes later. No one, apart from the Polish referee, knows where the 19 minutes came from.
Goal of the year: Youcef Belaili
It was not only the best goal of the FIFA Arab Cup, but probably the best goal of the year.
In the quarter-finals of the tournament between Morocco and Algeria, an Algeria goal kick was fired from inside the Moroccan half. Youcef Belaili shot the ball down, turned around and then unleashed a looping half-volley of about 40 yards that flew over the goalie’s head and into the far corner.
It was simply breathtaking. The fact that he came on a big stage only made things even better. In the semifinals, Algeria eliminated hosts Qatar. A day later, his club Qatar SC canceled his contract, although there was no suggestion that his goal and his departure were linked.
“Thank you very much to Qatar SC for the time spent by your side and a huge thank you to the fans and the management,” he said on social media. âNow I’m a free agent. “
Young Player of the Year: Hannibal Mejbri
It’s no secret when a player is on the Manchester United books, but Mejbri, 18, showed the Arab world in December why there are high hopes at Old Trafford that the Tunisian can become a big star. The midfielder made his international debut against DR Congo in June, just weeks after making his first English Premier League appearance for the Red Devils in a 2-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the Arab Cup, however, the former Monegasque prospect won two man of the match awards, helping Tunisia advance to the final.