Kuala Lumpur: As the historic Beirut derby between Al Ansar SC and Nejmeh SC, one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in Lebanon, kicks off later on Monday, the-AFC.com starts a journey that will take us across the continent to discover great Asian derbies where city rivals battle it out for much more than just three points.
Nejmah and Al Ansar both have their roots in the post-World War II period. Nejmeh (Arabic for ‘Star’) were born shortly after the independence of Lebanon in 1943 out of an amateur group of street footballers in a hilly district of Beirut.
Their city rivals Al Ansar (Arabic for ‘The Helpers’), were actually established in 1951 outside Beirut because the Lebanese capital already had one sports club per 10,000 inhabitants, as designated by the authorities, meaning the club set up in Mount Lebanon to the south of the city.
By 1965, as Beirut’s population grew, they switched bases and a rivalry between the Lebanese capital’s Burgundy of Nejmeh and Green of Al Ansar was born.
Beirut Municipal Stadium played host to the inaugural derby game between Nejmah and Al Ansar in 1968, a match that was won by the Burgundy side 2-1.
As the clubs gained popularity beyond Beirut and across the country, they toured Lebanon to play games in cities as far south as Tyre and as northerly as Tripoli.
In recent years, the derby games have been played at the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium.
The 48,000-capacity venue is Lebanon’s largest and was rebuilt to host the 2000 AFC Asian Cup, having previously been destroyed by war.
Nejmeh have enjoyed more of the success in Asian Football Confederation competitions, with the pinnacle of their eight AFC Cup appearances coming in 2005 when they became the first Lebanese side to reach an AFC final.
The Beirut team lost the first leg 1-0 against Jordan’s Al Faisaly in Amman, before twice coming from behind to equalise in the return fixture in Beirut, only to lose 3-2 to a late Hassouneh Al Sheikh goal and suffer a 4-2 aggregate defeat.
Al Ansar featured in the AFC Cup four times between 2007 and 2013 but did not manage to progress past the group stage.
Their most impressive stat, however, was playing in the Asian Club Championship seven times between 1994 and 2001, having won the Lebanese league a record 11 times (now 13) from 1988 to 1999.
A Match to Remember
The Beirut sides met at the Municipal Stadium in Beirut in the 1997/98 Lebanese league season with Al Ansar two points ahead of their rivals at the top of the table.
A crowd of 22,000 made their way to the stadium from the early hours of the morning and thousands more gathered outside after tickets were sold out.
Mohamed Al Saqsouq gave Al Ansar an early advantage after just five minutes but Moussa Hojeij equalised for Nejmeh with a thunderous drive, before The Greens restored their lead via a Malik Hassoun free-kick.
Hojeij tried to repeat the trick, but his long-range effort this time rebounded off the bar for Wael Nazha to tap in as the first half ended 2-2.
Al Ansar dominated the second half and added two more goals through Mohammed Mosalmani and Abdelfattah Chehab to win 4-2 and extend their lead to five points.
They would go on to win their ninth consecutive league title that season.
Photos: Lagardère Sports