Qatar international Meshal Abdulla struck twice in a span of three minutes as Al Ahli romped past former champions Al Gharafa, 4-2, in the opening match of the Qatar Stars League yesterday.
Al Gharafa, who have struggled to keep pace with the Qatar big guns Al Sadd, Lekhwiya, El Jaish and Al Rayyan over the past few years – the last of their seven QSL titles came in 2010 – made a brisk start to the match with Hungarian international Krizstian Nemeth’s glanced header off a Ali al-Yahri pass giving them a 1-0 lead as early as in the fourth minute.
However, Al Gharafa failed to cover their bases and surrendered the initiative a minute later when Congolese striker Firmin Mubele raced down the right flank and whipped in a measured pass for Al Ahli captain Abdulla who scored with the easiest of tap-ins.
The match saw its third goal before it was eight minutes old, with the pair of Mubele and Abdulla linking up again.
Mubele nicked the ball off Gharafa captain Bilal Mohammed on the right flank and crossed for Abdulla, and with the Gharafa defence failing to fall back again, he had ample time to drill the Mubele drilled the ball into the roof of the net.
The home side then began to assert themselves against a stunned Gharafa side. The Brigadiers looked strong on the break with Mubele’s pace a constant threat.
Eventually, Al Gharafa carved out their second chance of the game, but Vladimir Weiss’ shot was easily pouched by Al Ahli goalkeeper Abdulla al-Dosari.
With the first half coming to a close, Al Ahli feasibly could have gone into the break with a 3-1 lead. Mubele’s twisting run and well-timed pass found Mojtabi Jabari. but his shot was saved by Hassan Ali.
In the second half, Al Gharafa pushed hard for the equaliser, only to be marshalled by the backline of John Benson and Fred Dabanka.
Despite being under pressure for the majority of the second half it was Ahli who all but secured the tie on the 75th minute. Two goal hero Abdulla turned provider this time calmly slotting the ball to Mojtabi Jabari who tapped in from close range.
The goal came against the run of play and Gharafa did find a lifeline in stoppage time thanks to a perfectly executed free-kick from Weiss.
Gharafa pushed on to find a last gasp equalizer, but a mistimed back pass and lack of control from Gharafa stopper Hassan Ali allowed Mubele to race through and slot into an unguarded net to guarantee Al Ahli all three points.
Meanwhile, in the second match of the day, Al Arabi edged Al Sailiya 1-0 with Yousef Ahmed scoring the only goal of the match in the 63rd minute.
Like Al Gharafa, Al Arabi too have won the league seven times, but their last triumph was way back in 1997.
The match saw its third goal before it was eight minutes old, with the pair of Mubele and Abdulla linking up again
Al Ahli players celebrate one of their goals against Al Gharafa, while at right, Al Sailiya defend against Al Arabi on the opening day of the Qatar Stars League yesterday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil