2009: A thrilling year for Arab football
© AFP

The FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 played witness to one of the biggest events in Arab football history: African champions Egypt’s thrilling 1-0 victory over world champions Italy. Not only did Mohamed Homos’ 40th-minute header ensure the Pharaohs became the first African side ever to beat the Azzurri at senior level, it also secured the 2006 and 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations winners a first-ever victory at the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Youth football also played its part in bringing joy to the hearts of Arab football fans, with UAE’s U-20 side reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt after a 2-1 victory over Venezuela. The decisive goal came in the 83rd minute, when Ahmed Ali capitalised on a mistake by Carlos Salazar to steal the ball and square it for Ahmed Khalil to fire home the winner.

Meanwhile at club level, November’s AFC Cup final was contested by two Arab teams, Al Karamah from Syria and Al Kuwait, with the latter eventually running out 2-1 winners. They thus became the first Kuwaiti side to claim a trophy which has now been won by an Arab team for the last six years.

Another landmark happening in Arab football this year was September’s play-off clash between Asian Zone rivals Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, with the winner subsequently taking on Oceania outfit New Zealand for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. After an uninspiring first leg in Manama finished goalless, Bahrain looked to be safely through on away goals with the scores locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes in the return.

Yet there was still time for two late twists in the tail. First Saudi Arabia defender Hamad Al Montashari popped up to put his side into the lead with a 90-minute header and send the home fans into raptures, only for the visitors to level the match and seal their passage via a Ismael Abdullatif goal in the fourth minute of injury time.

Following the exciting climax to the Asian Zone preliminaries, the African Zone also featured one of the tightest qualifying duels in recent times in the shape of the Group C tussle between Egypt and Algeria, which required a play-off to separate the two fierce rivals.

Going into the Egypt and Algeria’s meeting on 14 November, the pair’s final Group C game, the visiting Fennecs were on their way to South Africa 2010 despite the 1-0 scoreline. Emad Meteab’s strike in the fifth minute of injury time changed everything, however, levelling the two teams’ records and forcing the need for a decider.

This eagerly anticipated meeting, which was held on neutral territory in Omdurman, Sudan, was undoubtedly the most memorable of 2009 for the Arab game at large. A highly charged and fiercely contested encounter was settled by a solitary strike from Algeria’s Anthar Yahia, who smashed a superb half-volley into the roof of the Egyptian net in the 40th minute to send Les Fennecs through to South Africa 2010.

Once there, they will be determined to leave a positive impression, as Algeria coach Rabah Saadane told FIFA.com: “We didn’t expect to be the only Arab team to qualify but this has given us the huge incentive of representing the Arab world both on and off the pitch. This will spur on our players to give their all and they will be perfectly prepared come the start of the competition.”