Ahed, Nejmeh draw in season opener
Yaacoubo, Maatouk, Sabra, Chaito bring goals, excitement to first match
BEIRUT: Defending champions Ahed battled back to earn a 2-2 draw with Nejmeh as the new Lebanese Premier League season kicked off in City Sportive Friday.
Issa Yaacoubo had Ahed ahead inside three minutes before goals from Hasan Maatouk and Maher Sabra gave Nejmeh a halftime lead.
But Hasan Chaito popped up on 60 minutes to rescue a point for his side with a well-taken volley.
With many expecting a two-horse race for the title between Ahed and Nejmeh, 15,000 fans poured into the stadium for the Beirut derby.
And it was the Ahed fans who were almost immediately sent into raptures as Yaacoubo broke the deadlock.
After Ibrahima Diop superbly controlled a cross with his chest, the Senegalese striker cushioned the ball for Yaacoubo, who sent his shot curling over new Nejmeh goalkeeper Abbas Hasan.
But it wasn’t long before the returning Maatouk made an impact on Friday’s match.
The former Ahed player came agonizingly close to haunting his old club as a searing 6th minute run culminated with his effort crashing off the base of the post.
Nejmeh’s lightening pace on the break was starting to take its toll on the champions, and the pressure finally told on 29 minutes.
Maatouk once again terrorized Ahed down the left, breaking into the box before Yaccoubo’s dangled leg upended the Lebanon captain.
Maatouk confidently rifled home from the spot to draw his side level.
Ahed’s sloppy play in midfield afforded Nejmeh numerous opportunities in transition, with Ablelrazaq al-Hussain spurning a glorious chance after 35 minutes.
Nader Matar’s fine run followed by a clever reverse ball left the Syrian midfielder eyeball to eyeball with Mehdi Khalil, but, after rounding the goalkeeper Hussain dragged his effort inches wide.
But Nejmeh’s dominance was soon rewarded as a quickly taken corner on the stroke of halftime saw Maatouk whip in a delicious cross which Sabra crashed in at the far post. Ahed, however, responded as champions do with Chaito capitalizing on a fortuitous rebound to lash in the equalizer as the contest ended with a share of the spoils for both sides.
Meanwhile, 2016 champions Safa, who have continued to sell their best players in the offseason, face a difficult trip to last year’s runners-up Salam Zgharta Saturday.
Former Cedars manager Theo Bucker marks his return to Lebanese football when his new club Tripoli host 13-time champions Ansar Sunday. In other matches, Akhaa Ahli Aley face Racing, Al-Nabi Sheet entertain Tadamon Sour while newly promoted pair Al-Islah and Al-Shabab al-Arabi square off.
Yaacoubo and Mohammad Haidar celebrate Ahed’s opening goal.