There are straightforward wins and then there are those where a team pulls off a great turnaround and produces a win that remain etched in the memories of players and fans alike for long.
Yesterday, Lekhwiya did something similar, scripting a great recovery act that saw them defeat Al Sadd and lift their first-ever Emir Cup trophy.
With just 23 minutes and a little bit of injury time left in the second half, Lekhiwya were despairingly staring at a two-goal deficit and the Emir Cup trophy slipping away fast.
A high tempo first half of the final played at the Al Sadd stadium had yielded no goals and with half of the second half gone, neither team were able to break the shackles.
But then a great piece of individual effort gave Sadd the lead. Bounejah Baghdad got to the end of a long ball from the deep, fended off Chico Flores and fired the volley into the far corner to give his team the lead in the 62nd minute. Five minutes later Abdelkarim Hassan scored with a header off a free-kick and Sadd colours were flying high in the stands.
But this seemed to be the trigger that Lekhwiya were waiting for. It was their turn to score two goals in seven minutes to wrestle back parity. It began with Flores heading in the ball off a corner kicked in by Nam Tae-Hee. Then it was the turn of the South Korean himself to produce the best effort of the match.
Having received the ball inside the box, Nam Tae-hee did a stepover and fired a lovely curler into the far corner to which Lekhwiya goalkeeper Claude Amine had absolutely no chance. Four goals in 15 minutes and the match was now in full flow.
Lekhwiya had entered this final having scripted a 2-1 turnaround victory over El Jaish. And having drawn level, the Red Knights were now eager to finish off their opponents.
Alain Dioko got a great chance in the 78th minute but his effort went over the goal. Lekhwiya’s stand-in skipper Karim Boudiaf could have finished it off in the 92nd minute but his header was acrobatically saved by Sadd keeper Saad al-Sheeb.
Sadd survived this onslaught and were able to take the match into penalties. Sadd skipper Xavi converted his attempt to give his side the advantage.
Alain Dioko brought Lekhiwya on par with his strike. Khalfan Ibrahim stepped up but his shot was saved by Amine. Luiz Martin didn’t miss his shot. Nadir Belhadj had a chance to score and put some pressure on Lekhiwya but the midfielder ended up shooting wide.
Tae-Hee then calmly sent al-Sheeb the wrong way to kick-start the celebrations on the Lekhiwya bench.
Sadd players could not believe that they had come so close but let the Emir Cup slip through their hands. Before the match, there was a lot of talk about how the recent 4-0 defeat to Jaish in the Asian Champions League would affect the Lekhwiya players during this final.
But coach Djamel Belmadi had said that his players would show their true character in this game. And for sure they did.
This was one trophy that had eluded Lekhiwya despite their stellar success in recent seasons and now they can proudly add the Emir Cup to their cabinet. As for Sadd, they came very close to getting a hat-trick of titles but couldn’t sustain the effort till the very end.
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