BEIRUT: The Lebanese football league fixtures this weekend can quite easily be chunked into two categories: Saturday’s relegation battles and Sunday’s title playoffs.
The fixture list has saved the best for last with champions elect Nejmeh and Ansar – historically the two best supported clubs – going head-to-head straight after respective League and Cup holders and runners up Ahed and Safa battle it out for second spot.
By the end of Saturday the relegation picture should be a little clearer as bottom two clubs Mabarrah and Ahli Sidon face off after third bottom Salam Sour play Sporting Tripoli, who are still anything but safe in their first season back in the top division.
The only dead rubber tie this weekend is between Akhaa Aley and Shabab Sahel who sit comfortably in mid-table obscurity, too low to challenge and too high to be sucked into the relegation mire.
Ahed and Safa go into Sunday’s off the back of a pair of mix results in the AFC Cup. Despite dominating early on, Safa went down 2-0 at home against Syrian side Al-Shorta leaving them in a precarious position, while Ahed left Saudi Arabia with a creditable 0-0 draw with top of the group Ettifaq.
Ahed might currently be closer to top spot, but Safa have two games in hand on second placed Ahed and three over league leaders Nejmeh. A win Sunday can put Safa right back into a title race that appeared to be over before Monday when Nejmeh lost 1-0 to Akhaa Aley.
“We have now a number of games that were initially postponed, which [doesn’t help us] now that Nejmeh have built up a gap [at the top of the table] and provides a mental obstacle to some of our players,” said Ziad al-Samad, Safa’s goalkeeper. “We can’t draw or lose, we have one choice, which is winning and grabbing the three points or either way Nejmeh will guarantee the title.
“Returning to the local competition is not easy, we lost a tough match against Al-Shorta [in the AFC Cup] where we came short on fitness in the second half, despite being the better side in the first half.
“We know Ahed will try their best to seal the win in their campaign to finish second in the league after they failed to retain their title. It’s going to be a good match,” he added.