The 2022 FIFA World Cup is not only unique because it kicks off in the Northern Hemisphere winter for the first time in the competition’s 92 years of existence, but also because it will take place in an Arabic speaking country for the first time. So it’s a good time to brush up on your knowledge of the language as it relates to soccer.
While exploring the rich football terminology of the Arabic language, it is worth noting that this is a language that is spoken by people from across 26 nations, spreading from Oman on the Indian Ocean to Morocco on the Atlantic, meaning there exists some significant variation in dialects that should be kept in mind when conversing with the locals. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most weird and wonderful Arabic football terms.
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Let’s start with the basics: Koora is the most common name for the football itself in Arabic. The word is driven from the standard Arabic “Kura” meaning ball, but often refers to the game of football. And while the word is universally understood for Arabic speakers, other terms for a football exist. In Lebanon, you are more likely to hear Tabeh, from the Turkish “Top” (“ball”), while should you find yourself speaking to a Kuwaiti, Timbakhiyah is the word for a football unique to the small gulf nation.
Another remnant of Ottoman legacy, adopted from the Turkish “Köprü“, the word Kobri is colloquial Arabic for bridge, and the word is commonly used across the Arab World to refer to football’s most prized dribbling skill; the “nutmeg.” The term is a nod to the conceding player’s legs resembling a bridge, under which the ball passes. Another common term for the skill is Beidha (“egg”), with the player at the humiliating end of it being seen to have laid an egg.
A fairly recent introduction into the lexicon of football in the region, the term Jahfala was born in Saudi Arabia in 2015 when Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr locked horns in the King’s Cup final. After tense but goalless 90 minutes, Al-Nassr took the lead and looked destined for victory when Al-Hilal defender Mohammed Jahfali rose to head home an equaliser in the 120th minute of the game, forcing a penalty shootout which Al-Hilal won, and a new term for a dramatic late twist was born. Jahfala has since extended to other walks of life, growing to mean any last-moment turn of events.
Balanti (also Balan)
Arabic language has some unique letters not found in other alphabets, but one sound it lacks is the letter “P.” An Arab would typically ask for “Bibsi” when ordering the soft drink Pepsi. Similarly, the term “Penalty kick” has over the years transformed into “Benalty”, then Balanti and now at times abbreviated to Balan. An Arab fan could be spotted screaming “Balan ya Hakam!” (“Penalty, referee!”) at the sight of a player going down inside the box in Qatar.
The origins of this word are unclear, but the term has existed for decades, denoting a sliding tackle, often a reckless double-footed one that leaves an opponent rolling on the floor. Inbirash is another term that found its way into daily life, referring to the act of jumping into an ongoing conversation without first fully understanding the topic of discussion.
An Arabization of the English word “backward,” a Bacord also called Dabal (adopted from “double”) is the Arabic term often used to describe an acrobatic bicycle kick. As explained by its origin, the term does not cover a sideways scissors kick; that one is quite simply called Magas, which is Arabic for a scissor.
Khod wo Hat
Literally translating to “Take and give me back,” Khod wo Hat is an Arabic term referring to the passing combination commonly known as a “one-two” or “give-and-go,” where a player passes, moves into space and receives the ball back from his teammate immediately. In recent years, this term has given way to the simpler “one-two,” but you could still hear it in commentary at times.
Two terms that are equally popular to describe the same skill. Marwaha is Arabic for a revolving fan, while Baddal is an adaptation of the English word “pedal.” Imagining the movement of the two items, you may have guessed by now the skill in question is the stepover, popularized around the turn of the century by the likes of Denilson and Brazil great Ronaldo then becoming a trademark of the latter’s Portuguese namesake in the years that followed.
Another everyday item finding its way into the language of football in this part of the word, Mazhariya is Arabic for vase. It is one of those items you don’t often move around, and this was the inspiration behind Arab football fans calling a goalkeeper who is left rooted to the spot, watching the ball nestle into the back of his net, a Mazhariya.
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A distant relative of Bacord, Ala-Al-Tayer literally translates to “on the fly.” It is used to refer to a range of first-time strikes, be it a volley or a half-volley, that fall short of being a full bicycle kick. The term is also used in daily life to refer to a quick-witted person; for example, a person is said to understand things Ala-Al-Tayer.
From the word Shamsiya, meaning umbrella, this term is most commonly used in Egypt and refers to the skill of flicking the ball over an opponent’s head. A skill referred to in Latin America as the “Sombrero” or “Chapeu.” In other parts of the Arab World, this skill is called Tasgeeta; a lob, and in other places it is called Maqaas (not to be confused with Magas); taking a measurement of your opponent’s height.
A cousin of Tashmeesa, the word Targeesa (pronounced Tar’eesa in places like Lebanon and Egypt), comes from the Arabic Raqs; to dance. The act of Targeesa is when an attacking player makes an opponent dance, helplessly attempting to dispossess them.
Wayn Yeskon Al Shaytan
Literally translates to “where Satan lives,” similar to the Brazilian “where the owl sleeps,” this phrase is often used when a strike is hit perfectly into the top corner of the goal.
Sammam Al Aman
We have all heard of “leaky defences,” how do you solve that problem? A safety valve, which is the literal translation to this Arabic term for a commanding centre-back. While watching Virgil van Dijk or Kalidou Koulibaly in Qatar 2022, you could also refer to them as “Wazir Al Difaa,” Arabic for Minister of Defence.
Hunting pigeons? A popular sport (albeit a controversial one) in some parts of the world but not often enjoyed on a football pitch, unless you’re having a Darwin Nunez level of misfortune in front of goal with Arab fans watching; your skied shots will then have you described as “Yaseed Hamaam,” or hunting pigeons.
This wraps up the list of must-learn Arabic football terms ahead of Qatar 2022. If you are headed to the FIFA World Cup this November, enjoy your Koora, impress the locals be showing you know your Bacord from your Maqas and always stay alert to avoid a late Jahfala.