After a four-year period in which the Iraq’s northern sides have dominated the Iraqi league at the expense of clubs from the nation’s capital, Baghdad outfit Al Zawraa have clinched the 37th edition of the championship. They clinched glory after edging a penalty shootout 5-4 against Arbil, who won the league three times on the trot starting in 2006/07.
FIFA.com looks back over the highlights of the season that saw the Gulls take their overall tally of league titles to 12, seven more than nearest rivals Al Talaba and Al Quwa Al Jawiya.
Al Zawraa dominate
It was a season of consistently outstanding performances for Al Zawraa, who topped the Iraqi League’s Group B for clubs from the south with 19 wins, five draws and just two defeats against Minaa and Al Quwa Al Jawiya, who finished the group two points adrift of the eventual champions.
The only small hiccup in an otherwise flawless campaign came early on, when they followed a 1-0 victory over Karbala in their first game with a loss to Al Quwa Al Jawiya, though they soon regained their balance. Their most impressive period came towards the end of their Group B matches when they recorded six successive wins, taking them through to face Group A table-toppers Arbil in a repeat of the 2007/08 championship final. On that previous occasion Arbil took the crown for the second time in their history, and the 2011 final was seen as an opportunity for revenge for the boys from Baghdad.
More than 45,000 spectators were in attendance for the final, crowding into Baghdad’s Al Shaab stadium on 15 August to watch Al Zawraa goalkeeper Ammar Ali become the hero of the hour as he blocked Nabeel Sabah’s penalty, leaving Haidar Sabah to slot in Al Zawraa’s fifth and claim the title for his team.
Arbil runners-up once again
Arbil’s run of league victories was ended last season by defeat to northern rivals Duhok in the final and after qualifying for this year’s season finale they seemed set to regain the crown.
The former champions finished the season at the top of Group A, a single point clear of second placed Al Sinaa, one of four teams to beat them alongside Al Shurta, Zakho and Duhok.
Al Sinaa had a superb championship themselves, beating Baghdad giants Al Quwa Al Jawiya 1-0 in the third place decider to record their highest league finish since the 1981/82 season, when they also took bronze.
Disappointment for major clubs
Last year’s title-holders Duhok will want to forget their performance this season, after a respectable 12 wins was offset by no less than 10 defeats leaving them in sixth place in the Group A table, their worst result for three years.
With the exceptions of the champions, the traditional footballing stronghold of Baghdad fared little better. Al Quwa Al Jawiya failed to take back the title they last won in 2004/05, finishing in fourth place in Group B, four places ahead of fellow capital heavyweights Al Talaba. Two-time league winners Al Shurta took a lowly eighth place in their group but the real shock of the season was the dramatic fall from grace of 1983/84 champions Al Jaish, who dropped out of the country’s premier division after coming last in Group A.
29 – The number of goals netted by the league’s top scorer, Arbil striker Luay Salah, and fellow forward Hussein Karim, who between them managed more than half of their team’s season tally of 54. Neither man, however, managed to find the net in open play during the final against Al Zawraa.
“Arbil are a strong side and have embarrassed our team on a number of occasions, but it was our destiny to win the title after playing so well. I’m pleased with the side’s performance and delighted that Al Zawraa have taken their 12th title and their first with me," Al Zawraa coach and Iraq Olympic coach Radhi Shenaishil.