Five key bat­tles in Ahed-Ne­jmeh show­down

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - SPORTS -

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.

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