Five key battles in Ahed-Nejmeh showdown
BEIRUT: Co-leaders Nejmeh and Ahed face off in a mouthwatering match with significant title ramifications Saturday. The Daily Star looks at five key matchups that could influence the result.
NOUR MANSOUR (AHED) VS. PHILLIPE DOS SANTOS (NEJMEH)
After a fallow start, Phillipe Dos Santos seems to have acclimated to life in the Lebanese Premier League. The robust Brazilian has proved a handful for opposition defenses of late, and Ahed talisman Nour Mansour will be tasked with mitigating the threat of Dos Santos Saturday. Dos Santos is Nejmeh’s leading marksman this season with four goals, and his aerial prowess offers the eight-time champions another dynamic in attack. They utilized the long ball to great effect against Safa most recently, where Dos Santos bullied his markers en route to a couple of headed goals. But with Mansour anchoring the back line, Ahed boast the meanest defensive record in the league, conceding just three goals in nine matches. The Lebanon international’s languid style bellies his defensive sensibilities, and he will have to be at his vigilant best to upend the streaking Dos Santos.
KASSEM AL-ZEIN (NEJMEH) VS. MARTIN TOSHEV (AHED)
Late-bloomer Kassem al-Zein has developed into a fine centerhalf, a string of commanding performances seeing the 28-year-old rewarded with regular call-ups to the Cedars squad. But while Nejmeh have been miserly at the back – letting in only four goals – they have yet to face a striker of Martin Toshev’s quality. The Bulgarian hit the ground running following a summer move from Septemvri Sofia in his homeland, netting five times in as many matches before a sixweek injury layoff sullied his blistering start.
But Toshev made a goalscoring return last week as Ahed edged Shabab alSahel 1-0 to maintain their unbeaten start. most intriguing matchup of Saturday’s encounter, as the pugnacious Haitham Faour looks to snuff out his elegant counterpart Nader Matar. As the transitional pivot in midfield, Matar, with his close control and an eye for a pass, is the genesis of Nejmeh’s attacks. Polar opposite Faour excels at the seemingly more menial tasks, consolidating Ahed’s rearguard while bringing energy and industry to the midfield. With central supremacy crucial to Saturday’s outcome, look for Faour to be a thorn in playmaker Mater’s side.
ALI HAMAM (NEJMEH) VS. AHMAD ZREIK (AHED)
Another clash of styles that should come into sharp focus, with the judicious Ali Hamam keeping a keen eye on electric winger Ahmad Zreik. Right-back Hamam brings calm and experience to Nejmeh’s defense, while Zreik’s quick feet and direct running always offer Ahed a swift outlet. With Mohammad Haidar missing and Rabih Ataya enduring sporadic game time, the brunt of the creative burden will fall on Zreik’s shoulders. The pocket rocket winning his individual duel with Hamam will be vital to Ahed’s hopes.
HUSSEIN AL-ZEIN (AHED) VS. HASAN MAATOUK (NEJMEH)
Despite an off-color start to the season, Hasan Maatouk remains Nejmeh’s elixir in the final third. Maatouk’s patchy form – he has scored only twice this campaign – could spell trouble for full-back Hussein al-Zein, with Nejmeh skipper undoubtedly aiming to get one over on his former side. Zein will need all the help he can get, with center-back Khalil Khamis likely to shuffle across to shore up
Ahed’s right side.
Hasan Maatouk remains Nejmeh’s elixir in the final third.