Al Rayyan face their day of reckoning in their bid for a domestic treble when they take on a resurgent Lekhwiya in the first semi-final of the Qatar Cup today at the Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Stadium. The match begins at 7.15pm.
After romping to the Qatar Stars League title with five matches to spare, Al Rayyan have simply gone off the boil. They haven’t won a single match after lifting the Falcon Shield and could struggle when they meet Lekhwiya, who have been involved in the gruelling Asian Champions League where they have qualified for the last 16.
Lekhwiya also have a score to settle after being dethroned by Al Rayyan as the Qatar Stars League champions and their match-up today provides an exciting opportunity for them to put that disappointment behind them.
In fairness to Al Rayyan, head coach Jorge Fossati has fully utilised his squad in recent weeks and given fringe players an opportunity to impress. He did, however, play a full-strength side against improving Al Sadd – and that match ended 2-2 after the Wolves scored two late goals to grab a point.
Al Rayyan’s main man this season has been Rodrigo Tabata. The talismanic number ten has been pivotal in the final third and currently tops the scoring and assist charts. If Tabata can regain his best form, there’s no reason why Al Rayyan can’t go on to lift the Qatar Cup for the first time since 2012.
Another key player for Rayyan is Victor Caceres. The Paraguayan midfielder has been an unsung hero for the Lions this season and will be relied upon to pull the strings in the centre of the park.
Lekhwiya are the Qatar Cup holders and go into this year’s competition aiming to lift the trophy for a second time. The Red Knights have had an inconsistent season that culminated in them finishing fourth – their lowest ever position in the QSL. Since being promoted to the top division of Qatari football in 2010, Lekhwiya had never finished outside the top two until this season.
Despite some glimpses of their best form, including an eight-game winning run, Lekhwiya have endured something of a transitional year. And it’s one which could end with them failing to claim silverware for the first time in their short history.
If Lekhwiya are to lift the Qatar Cup, they’ll need midfielder Youssef Msakni to be on top form. The Tunisian international has been the driving force behind Lekhwiya’s best moments this season. Another vital player for Lekhwiya is Nam Tae Hee. The South Korean is a creative force for Djamel Belmadi’s men and has adapted well since the departure of Vladimir Weiss.
Jorge Fossati, the head coach of Al Rayyan is optimistic about his team’s chances ahead of the crunch encounter against Lekhwiya.
“We are training to play a very tough team. We know in the cup you have to win or there is no future. We are optimistic about ourselves because we are training well. I feel our team is really strong again. I have great respect for the other team but we will go into this match with the same winning mentality,” he said at the pre-match press conference yesterday.
“We beat them (Lekhwiya) in the first and second leg of the QSL. In football history plays no part, the wins are in the past and tomorrow is the present and in the next match we will write a new page in history,” added the Uruguayan tactician.
Speaking about the Al Rayyan’s defeat to Al Ahli in the last game of the QSL Fossati added, “We didn’t have good performance against Al Ahli. We could have won the game and in this game we made many mistakes. I did something I didn’t like as I changed half of the team from midfield to defense I changed 5 players. But thank god for this game, now we can decide which players will play in the next match. For this match we have our full team.”
The Lions top striker Tabata has attracted a lot of interest from other teams in the region.
“It is no surprise to me that a player like Tabata with his quality has an offer from another team. I am very happy that he has this interest and now most of the people in Qatar and the region are recognising his talent. But he is completely focused on the next game and even if he has the best offer in the world he will focus only on the game. He is our captain and his head is in the game,” added the sixty-three-year-old.
Djamel Belmadi, the head coach of Lekhwiya is hoping his side repeat what they did last season and go on to win the Qatar Cup, “Tomorrow is a very big game against the champions Qatar, in a competition we already won last year. And if we want to get to the final we have to get past this difficult and strong game,” said Belmadi.
“At this time we have many different circumstances and I don’t want to talk about the league as this is a different competition and we are facing the champions. And of course we had a very big game in Uzebekistan (in the Asian Champions League against Bunyodkor) and now we have a very big game against Rayyan,” added the Algerian.
Speaking about his team’s fitness ahead of the semifinal, Belmadi said: “Sometimes they believe that if some players rest and then they are ready and other times if they play a lot then they are tired. But sometimes being in competition keeps you ready and it could be the opposite but I don’t want to concern myself with this. We will put our best team forward and hope for the win.”
“Al Rayyan has a lot fans and this is good for football in Qatar and I hope our fans come as well and create a good atmosphere for the game.”
Lekhwiya coach Djamel Belmadi (C) and captain Karim Boudaif address the media at their Qatar Cup press conferernce yesterday. At bottom, Al Rayyan coach Jorge Fossati makes a point.