Ahed, Ne­jmeh draw in sea­son opener

Yaa­coubo, Maa­touk, Sabra, Chaito bring goals, ex­cite­ment to first match

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By James Jabra

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.

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