By Sports Reporter/Doha
After suffering a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Al Sadd in the season-opening Sheikh Jassim Cup, Al Duhail will aim to get their confidence and composure back when they take on promoted Qatar Sports Club on the opening day of the QNB Stars League tomorrow.
The match at the Abdulla bin Khalifa Stadium in Duhail could well set the tempo for Djamel Belmadi’s men, who will be looking for their sixth league crown, having won the tournament five times in the past when they were known as Lekhwiya before their merger with El Jaish at the end of last season.
Of the five titles, three came under their Algerian Djamel Belmadi, one of the most successful coaches on Qatar’s domestic circuit, while one each was won under Belgian Erik Gerets and Dane Michael Laudrup.
While a few players from El Jaish have found employment with Al Duhail, thereby strengthening the team, the outcome of the Sheikh Jassim Cup proved that won’t guarantee success in Qatar where relatively unfancied teams have often played party-poopers.
In 2015-16, Al Rayyan won the QSL under Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati with five matches to spare after playing in the second division the previous season.
The Lions, however, failed to repeat their feat last season, finishing third. Lekhwiya, too, had won their first title in their debut season in 2010-11, shocking the more established teams in the process.
Belmadi’s philosophy of starting every season “from zero” therefore makes sense as Duhail take the field against Qatar Sports Club who won eight league crowns, the last of which came in 2003.
Will the former giants go all the way to win the title like al Rayyan did in 2016 after a season outside the top flight?
That remains to be seen but Belmadi is certainly a bit concerned about his team’s opening match against Qatar Sports Club.
“I am expecting an interesting game against Qatar Sports Club because they have been promoted and I don’t have too much information on the side,” Belmadi said at his pre-match press conference.
“I feel that they have a good coach (Gabriel Calderon) and will do well in the league this season” added the Algerian.
But Belmadi insisted he doesn’t feel any pressure because he has the confidence that his players will continue to stay motivated despite the Sheikh Jassim Cup setback.
“The squad has improved with the signings in the summer. I now have to manage these expectations over the season, my aim is to always win and I feel we can achieve something with this side.”
Duhail winger Ali Afif added that his side can challenge for the title this season.
“We are a confident group of players and have been together for a number of years. We must start well, and take the season game by game.”
Qatar Sports Club coach Calderón was excited that his team are once again in the top flight.
“I am happy to be coaching in the QNB Stars League. We have had a good two months of preseason and the team is prepared. It will be a real challenge against the former champions but confidence is high and moral is good in my team,” said the former Argentine World Cupper. “We will have to start at a high tempo and impose our game on our opponents. This will be tough against Duhail, but I feel that is we do this we have every chance of causing an upset,” added Calderon.
Qatar SC player Mohamed Omar ended the press conference noting that the side are in an upbeat mood ahead of the opener.
“We are working well as a team in training, and our coach has lifted our confidence levels. We feel that we can do well this season in the league,” Omar said.
Al Gharafa vs Al Ahli 6pm
Duhail vs Qatar Sports Club 8:10pm
Umm Salal vs Al Kharaitiyat 8:10pm
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