Duhail clear a big hurdle as title aspirations soar
The win against Al Sadd on Saturday showed the Red Knights have the desire to go all the way.
Only two teams can boast of an unbeaten record as the Qatar Stars League head towards the half-way mark.
One of them, Al Rayyan, overcame a slow start, when draws seemed to be the order of the day, to post six successive victories en route to second place on the table at present.
The other is Duhail Sports Club, who also posted a superb sequence of six straight wins. Not surprisingly, they occupy the top spot, having won a game more than Rayyan.
The latest of those wins came on Saturday in an excellent performance at their home stadium as they overwhelmed defending champions Al Sadd 4-1, rallying from a one-goal deficit.
Hunger, the most essential quality in a champion outfit, was on display in full measure as Duhail repeatedly exposed the frailties of Xavi Hernandez’s team.
After the game, the Spanish legend acknowledged it, bluntly stating that his team was in the game only for the first 20 minutes.
“We played against a team that had a huge desire to win. Even if you assemble the best team in the world, you cannot win without spirit,” Xavi said, acknowledging the superiority of Duhail on the day.
Plenty of credit for Duhail’s show should go to their Portuguese coach Rui Faria. The Red Knights have suffered difficult times, but have stayed strong. Injuries hit them at frequent intervals, and even on Saturday, they were without three strong players in Bassam Al Rawi, Luiz Martin and Assim Madibo. But even when the flesh was weak, the spirit has stood by them.
Faria has made the best use of the talent available to him. The three matches against Sadd at the start of the season – in the AFC Champions League and Sheikh Jassim Cup – took a toll on his players. Their defence was shaky, and while the midfield toiled hard, there was no spark in the forward line, with newcomer Mohannad Ali struggling to adapt.
The early matches in the QSL captured their struggles well. A late win against Qatar Sports Club and draws against Al Arabi and Rayyan did not show the team in a good light. But luckily for Duhail, the schedule was kind to them, and Faria could work his way forward, charting out wins against teams that were not particularly strong.
By the time big matches against Al Gharafa and Sadd arrived, Duhail were ready. Their defence was much more secure, with Mehdi Benatia standing tall. Up front, the return of Youssef Msakni added sharpness while the presence of Edmilson brought flair. Mohammed Muntari delivered timely goals, and Almoez Ali was at hand to do the unpredictable.
Muntari’s injury on Saturday is another blow to Duhail, but they have shown they can tide over any problem with that spirit. Faria credited his team’s successes to teamwork. With such a big win against a formidable opposition under their belts, it will be a big surprise if Duhail fail to travel far on that teamwork in the coming rounds.
In contrast, Sadd really have some work to do to regain their momentum. They have suffered due to a busy schedule, with the AFC Champions League also on their plate. Having exited the continental stage, the Wolves were expected to be ready for Duhail, but inexplicably, they faded away.
A despondent Xavi summed up their plight perfectly. “We must think about the next phase. It’s difficult to think of winning the league if the performance continues like this,” he rued.
With two losses already in the league, Sadd are some way behind their rivals, even though they have two games on hand. With the team management having sidelined Abdelkarim Hassan after that red card in the AFC Champions League semifinal against Al Hilal, they miss a quality performer.
Xavi also has to shore up the defence that repeatedly floundered against Duhail if they are to mount a serious comeback in the league.
Happy times for Duhail, tough times for Sadd, exciting times for QSL fans.