In-form Al Gharafa and Al Ahli promise keen fight
Champions Al Sadd return to QSL action with a clash against Umm Salal while Duhail aim to gain rhythm against Wakrah.
Al Sadd will return to the Qatar Stars League after their remarkable AFC Champions League campaign, but the spotlight this weekend will be on another game in a programme of interesting match-ups.
Sadd, who entered the semifinal of the Champions League with a win over Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, will take on Umm Salal at Al Janoub Stadium on Friday. But an intriguing match awaits the fans before that, with in-form teams Al Gharafa and Al Ahli clashing at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd on Thursday.
Heading into the fourth round, Gharafa are in second place behind Al Arabi, but only on goal difference. Both teams have seven points each and Arabi can add to that when they play bottom-placed Al Shahania first on Thursday.
Defending champions Sadd have a game on hand. Their third-round match against Al Sailiya was postponed due to their Asian engagement and it will now be played next Tuesday.
Gharafa and Arabi have been the early movers, but Ahli have not done badly either. They are fourth with six points and have been playing entertaining football. Ruben de la Barrera’s men can trouble Gharafa with their attacking flair. The likes of Dutchman Nabil El Zhar and Paraguayan Hernan Perez have the ability to open up defences through their individual skills and Gharafa will be wary of the duo.
The Cheetahs have looked determined to make a bigger impact this season and the results so far have reflected that desire. A midfield featuring South Korean Koo Ja-Cheol and Algerian Adlane Guedioura has been behind their good show so far, with another Algerian, Sofiane Hanni, calling shots up front in partnership with Othman Al Yahri.
In Friday’s early kick-off, Sadd are expected to take Umm Salal in their stride. Xavi Hernandez’s men, playing away from their fortress for the first time in this league, have momentum on their side. An ankle injury to right back Pedro is a blow though, with the defender ruled out for three weeks.
In contrast to Sadd, Umm Salal are keen to get a move on, having missed out on some good opportunities in earlier rounds. One point from three games is a poor return for Raul Caneda’s team.
Duhail Sports Club, last season’s runners-up, are also struggling to find momentum. One win and two draws do not show them in good light. Coach Rui Faria will look to address the shortcoming in a tricky game on Saturday against the promoted Al Wakrah, who have been impressive so far with two wins, after losing the opener.
Duhail’s striker Mohanad Ali suffered an injury to his left foot and will be out of action for three weeks. With the Iraqi hardly justifying his billing, it could be a blessing in disguise for Duhail. His absence could pave the way for Almoez Ali to come to the forefront in a more assertive fashion, rather than playing behind Mohanad.
Al Rayyan, with three draws in their bag, are up against Al Khor in Saturday’s first match. Lack of a good striker had hurt Rayyan in their previous games and that lacunae could be addressed soon, should Croatian Mario Mandzukic, currently with Italy’s Juventus, join them.
Rayyan coach Diego Aguirre said talks were still on and he admitted that a player of Mandzukic’s calibre would be a real asset to his team.
Al Khor, placed seventh with four points, can upset Rayyan’s plans, given their fire power in attack.
Qatar SC, one of only two teams without a point, will be desperate to open their account when they meet Al Sailiya on Friday. Sailiya have just a point, from a draw against Al Khor.