Lebanese Football League: A six-way title struggle after a record transfer window and radical changes

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2023-08-03 | 05:39
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Lebanese Football League: A six-way title struggle after a record transfer window and radical changes
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Lebanese Football League: A six-way title struggle after a record transfer window and radical changes

The 64th edition of the Lebanese Football League is expected to witness an intense competition among six teams for the title, doubling the number compared to recent seasons. This comes amid ongoing economic and political crises in the country.

The spotlight is once again on the traditional powerhouses: Al-Ahed, aiming for their 10th title and a second consecutive one; Al-Ansar, holding the record with 14 titles and eager for their first since 2014, which would be their 9th overall; and Al-Nejmeh, with a strong fanbase, aspiring to their first title since 2014 and their 9th in history.

Furthermore, Safa is making a comeback with a new comprehensive project, having been active in the transfer market. Also, Bourj is seeking to be a dark horse, while Shabab Al-Sahel has shown competitiveness against the top teams in recent seasons.

The championship will feature significant changes, starting with the format. The twelve teams will play the first stage in a league format, with each team playing 11 matches. Then, they will be divided into two groups of six, similar to the previous three seasons, but the matches will be played in three stages, resulting in each team playing a total of 26 matches, compared to the previous 22 matches.

The Lebanese Football Association allowed clubs to contract with four foreign players to strengthen the matches' competitiveness and level. Additionally, teams are allowed to have one Palestinian player residing in Lebanon.

However, some clubs faced difficulties in securing high-level foreign players due to the general economic situation. Consequently, some teams relied more on local players.

This season will be the longest in the competition's history due to several breaks, as the Lebanese national team is involved in the Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup and preparations for the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar early next year.

On the refereeing side, the Lebanese Football Association is awaiting the arrival of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology, which will be implemented starting from the second group stage.

Many club presidents have demanded the introduction of VAR, as it has become widespread in most football stadiums worldwide. This comes amid continuous objections against the refereeing in Lebanon, with accusations of favoritism towards certain teams at the expense of others.

Regarding transfers, Al-Ahed maintained the core of their squad and appointed Syrian coach Raafat Mohamed. They also reinforced the team with talented young players, reducing the average age after releasing several players. Notable signings include international strikers Karim Darwish and Zein Al-Abidin Farran. Additionally, they brought back goalkeeper Mustafa Matar after his professional stint in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Ansar made a technical change by hiring Moroccan coach Idriss El-Marabti to lead the team. They also signed some prominent players, including international defender Robert Melki, along with Malian midfielder Yacouba Damba, and Tunisian midfielder Omar Zakri.

Meanwhile, Al-Nejmeh enters the championship with high spirits after recently winning the Super Cup against their archrivals Al-Ahed (4-1 on penalties after a goalless draw). They seek to reconcile with their fervent fans who have been waiting for a title for nearly a decade. The club made significant signings, including the international forward Mohammed Sadek and Afghan player Omid Popalzay, as well as Ukrainian striker Dmytro Bilodid. They are under the supervision of 60-year-old Dutch coach Jan De Jong.

Similarly, Bourj is active in the transfer market as they aim to achieve their first title in history. They signed experienced international striker Hilal El-Helwe and full-back Mohammed Zein Tahan, along with Syrian player Ahmad Al-Saleh, Tunisian Houssem Lawati, and Ghanaian Bruce-Bertrand Koné. 

As for the other teams, their primary ambition is to maintain their position in the top tier, or surprise everyone and qualify for the top six, as Shabab Al-Ghazieh did in the previous season. The Southern clubs, Al-Tadamon and Al-Salam Zgharta, are facing financial difficulties. Meanwhile, newcomers Al-Ahli Nabatieh aspire to make their mark.

The Northern team, Tripoli SC, is representing the North of Lebanon after Al-Salam Zgharta's relegation last season.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
AFP

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Lebanese

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Six-Way

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Radical

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