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BEIRUT: It is one of Arab football’s biggest derbies, a rivalry no less passionate than those between Al-Ahly and Zamalek, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, or Wydad v. Raja.
This weekend will see the 74th meeting between the Lebanese Premier League’s two most popular clubs, Nejmeh SC and Al-Ansar, in what is inevitably a closely fought fixture.
The record in the Beirut derby stands at 23 wins each, with the teams drawing on 27 occasions in the Premier League, although Al-Ansar holds the overall head-to-head advantage, having three more wins across all competitions.
Both clubs have storied honors lists. Al-Ansar have won a record 14 Premier League titles and 15 Lebanese FA Cups, also a record. Nejmeh have countered with eight league titles and eight FA Cups.
The current league table sees Al-Ansar tied on points at the top of with Ahed, one point clear of Nejmeh, with the final game of the season being the hotly anticipated derby.
The magnitude of the match captures the attention of Lebanese football fans whether residing in Beirut or abroad.
Due to the cultural and political connotations of the match between the Druze and Sunni-affiliated Nejmeh and the multifaith Al-Ansar, feelings can run high.
“The emotion, it is very scary. But as soon as you start playing, the first 10 minutes, 15 minutes, it becomes like any other match,” said Abbas Hassan, general manager of Al-Ansar.
Nejmeh head coach Paul Meneses shared his perspective on dealing with the emotional build-up ahead of the match.
“I am usually very positive during the week because I trust in my work and in my players,” he said. “I try to be calm, and show my confidence to the players and technical staff. Because my leadership is more effective when I lead by the example. If I want calm and confidence in my players during the derby, I have to show them the way.”
Hassan gives an insight into how Al-Ansar prepare for the derby to eclipse all derbies.
“I mean, if we want to talk about artistic preparation, there are no unique preparations,” he said. “There are normal preparations. Of course, there is some (analysis) of the opponent. Where are their weak points? Where are their strengths? You work on their weak points and try to reduce their strengths.
“Give the team the spirit, and (let them face) their responsibilities. Today you are playing for your name, for the name of Al-Ansar.”
Meneses, meanwhile, has an all-encompassing tactical approach geared toward achieving victory.
“According to the tactical plan for the game, we need to transmit the ideas in a very clear way to the players, and give them confidence during the week,” he said. “We have to prepare the players on the mental side, because in these derbies, the players usually play more with the heart.
“The decisions that the players will take during the week can be affected by their emotions,” he added. “In this case, if we define during the week who will defend the spaces, their offensive movements, it will be easier for the players during the derby. If our team keeps more ball possession than the opponent, we can control the game and create more chances to score.”
The Lebanese Premier League is contested in “split” system across two phases. Phase one sees the 12 teams play each other once for a total of 11 matches each. The table is then split into two groups of six teams, with each team playing five more matches. Points from the first phase are halved and carried into the second phase.
When asked about his favorite memory of the Beirut derby, Hassan opts for a comprehensive 5-1 victory on Dec 8, 2023.
“My favorite derby moment is the last derby,” the Ansar manager said. “We had 17 points and we still needed three points from the last match to win (the first phase). And we had the last match with Nejemeh. At that point they were undefeated, and we had changed coaches.”
Hassan recalls that Ansar President Nabil Badr showed up to rally the players.
“He went down to the locker room with the players and told them that they would win,” Hassan said.” And, more importantly, he told them that everything that had happened up to this point will be put aside and that all the focus would be on this match.
“The presence of the president, the presence of the players, the new coach, his reading of the mistakes of the Nejmeh defense, the luck that accompanied us in the matches — we were able to perform, and score, far more than expected.
“We outperformed them a lot in spirit, strength, pressure, enthusiasm, thirst for victory, our need for victory. All these factors made us win this match,” Hassan said.
Meneses also shared his favorite Beirut derby moment, from March 5, 2023.
“My favorite Beirut Derby moment was last season in the play-off match of the championship, when we scored almost in the final moments of the game, to win 3-2,” he said.
“The stadium was packed with thousands of fans. In that moment, I felt we had qualified to the AFC Cup of Asia. It was a final for us and for Ansar. When the game finished, we had a big celebration with the Nejmeh fans.”
In the cauldron of the derby, both sets of managers and coaches understand that emotions need to be tamed. It takes a great deal of preparation, a strong sense of leadership, and a cohesive team spirit to achieve success.
The showdown between Lebanon’s two biggest clubs on Friday will be no different.

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