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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Light, action, camera! Tough league in prospect

Reigning champions Al Sadd take on Al Wakrah, Duhail play Qatar SC in opening matches of the QSL.
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With the Qatar Stars League season set to open on Wednesday, football fans in the country are in for a treat. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Al Sadd Sports Club and Duhail Sports Club might be plotting a strong assault on the Qatar Stars League crown, but the tussle for the top positions will be fiercely fought this season, feel some of the coaches in the elite contest that begins on Wednesday.

Champions Al Sadd take on promoted team Al Wakrah in the opening match of the 12-team competition at their home venue. Having secured a place in the quarterfinal of the AFC Asian Champions League and lifted the Sheikh Jassim Cup, Sadd are sitting pretty.

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Al Rayyan coach Diego Aguirre at a press conference on Tuesday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Their main rivals, Duhail, who play Qatar Sports Club on the opening day, also have shaken off the pre-season rust with three tough games against Sadd.

Down the order, however, a lot of churning has taken place with players coming in and leaving and a couple of new faces taking up the coaching reins. The changes could well have an effect on how the season pans out.

“Yes, Sadd and Duhail are the top teams but there’s a group of teams ready to compete against them this time. We’ve improved, the rest of the teams also have improved. I feel we could witness the most difficult QSL in years,” said Al Ahli coach Ruben de la Barrera.

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Al Ahli coach Ruben De La Barrera IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Al Ahli will play Al Arabi in their opening fixture on Friday, looking to break into the top-four bracket after finishing fifth last season.

“It’s a tough mission, but we’ll fight and we’ll try. It’s in our hands to compete, reduce the distance between us and the top teams. The ambition is to fight every game, no matter who our opponents are,” De la Barrera added.

The feeling is similar among the leading contenders who are keen to run Sadd and Duhail close. Al Rayyan and Al Sailiya had a neck and neck race for the third place last season with the latter prevailing by a point in the end.

With their former coach Diego Aguirre returning to the hot seat, Rayyan are mounting a serious challenge this time.

“Of course, Sadd and Duhail are ahead, but there’re other teams like Ahli, Arabi and Gharafa, who could give a fight. We’re also in the picture. It’ll be a tough contest,” said the Uruguayan, the only South American coach in fray this time.

Rayyan’s first opponents, on Friday, will be Umm Salal, who are on a rebuilding mission after a ninth place finish last season.

“At Al Rayyan, we always have a mentality to win. We’re preparing the team to compete for the title,” asserted Aguirre.

Umm Salal coach Raul Caneda entered the league half-way through the last season. The Spaniard will be expected to deliver a better performance this time around in a more competitive environment.

“Many teams have signed new players and an exciting league is in prospect. I would say this is the strongest ever league in Qatar and the most important one in Asia. We’ll have to work hard to make an impact,” said Caneda.

Al Shahaniya and Al Gharafa were also separated by a point last season and their match on Thursday could be a keenly contested affair.
Gharafa’s coach Slavisa Jokanovic, formerly with Fulham, has a good team at his disposal and the recent signings of South Korean Koo Ja-Cheol and Algerian Adlene Guedioura have underlined the club’s ambitions this season.

“It’s the ambition of every coach to win and form a good team with a special identity,” said Jokanovic, expressing a common thought running through the men in the hot seat.

The first week will show where the teams stand in this regard.