Al Arabi eager to conquer Al Gharafa as QSL resumes
With Al Sadd away on AFC action, Duhail look to consolidate top position as they take on Umm Salal.
Al Arabi will get a chance to enhance their growing reputation this season when they take on Al Gharafa on Sunday as the Qatar Stars League resumes after the international break this weekend.
With Doha hosting the IAAF World Athletics Championships, QSL was not in spotlight in the first week of the month while Ooredoo Cup intervened subsequently to seize attention. But there were thrilling contests and exciting goals in the sixth round, with the points table reflecting some interesting changes.
The defeat of Al Sadd to Al Rayyan was the talking point with the defending champions struggling to balance their AFC Champions League and QSL commitments. They have slipped to number three position, though with a game on hand. Sadd will miss this round of play too, as they will be playing Al Hilal in the second leg of the Asian Champions League semifinal in Riyadh on October 22.
There will be three matches on Saturday, with Al Rayyan taking on Qatar Sports Club, Al Sailiya playing Al Wakrah and Al Ahli clashing with Al Shahania. But the spotlight certainly is on Sunday’s Arabi-Gharafa match.
Arabi, who have not lost a match so far, have quietly moved to second position with 13 points, just one behind leaders Duhail Sports Club. Under former Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, Arabi have impressed with their flexible approach and calculated attacks.
Al Gharafa, in contrast, have suffered two setbacks in the last two rounds, losing to Al Sailiya 1-3 and then drawing with Al Wakrah 3-3. The Cheetahs are in fifth position, even though only three points separate the top five teams. Gharafa will be keen to stay in the reckoning with a win on Sunday but Arabi will not pushovers.
“We know the strengths of Al Gharafa, they’ve good players with plenty of skills and experience,” said Hallgrimsson. “But we’re ready for the match.”
Arabi will be without the services of their injured midfielder Aaron Gunnarsson, who is out for three months after undergoing an ankle surgery. Iceland midfielder Birkir Bjarnason has been signed as a replacement, but it remains to be seen whether he can bring in the same energy and strength in the air.
“It was unfortunate for us to lose a player like him at this stage. He’s a fighter and supports other players as well. We hope Birkir gives us the same level that Aaron gave us,” said Hallgrimsson.
Gharafa coach Slavisa Jokanovic sounded confident ahead of the big match.
“We’re ready for this game. I know Al Arabi are a strong team that gets good results. They’ve sharp strikers and a good midfield, but our target is victory,” he said.
With Sadd away, Duhail get a chance to consolidate their position atop the table when they play Umm Salal, also at the Al Arabi Stadium, on Sunday. Duhail have had their struggles with injuries, but Rui Faria’s men have managed to stay unbeaten. They can be expected to maintain that record against Umm Salal, who are ninth with just five points.
Rayyan, in fourth spot, are fresh from their win over Sadd and they will carry that confidence into the game against Qatar SC on Saturday. It will be an important game for Rayyan in their quest to be in the top-three.
“Everyone knows that Al Sadd is the best team in Qatar. We might’ve beaten them in the last match, but now we’re focused on the Qatar SC match,” said Rayyan coach Diego Aguirre.
A change at the helm, with Wesam Rizik replacing Carlos Alos, has not worked wonders for Qatar, who are one rung above the bottom-placed Al Shahania. Rizik will be looking to tighten the defence as they prepare for a tough task.
Al Sailiya and Al Wakrah should produce an entertaining affair. The eighth-placed Sailiya do not have rewards to show for their efforts while promoted team Wakrah have sparkled in patches to be in seventh spot. Having held Gharafa to a 3-3 draw in the previous round, Wakrah should be hopeful of a better result against Sailiya at the Al Ahli Stadium.