By Sports Reporter/Doha
Al Gharafa can take the field with renewed vigour and boosted confidence for many reasons, when the QNB Stars League’s second-phase campaign starts this Friday. The seventh-placed Al Gharafa (11 points) travel to sixth-placed Al Ahli (14 points) for their gameweek 12 on Friday at 4:20pm.
The Cheetahs saw many positive changes during the QNB Stars League’s month-long break, during which the semi-finals and final of QSL Cup was played and also the Gulf Cup in Kuwait.
First, Al Gharafa triumphed in the sixth edition of QSL Cup, defeating Al Rayyan in the final. Thus, they ended their long title drought, of five seasons. They had qualified for the semi-finals with an unbeaten record.
Turkey’ Bulent Uygun then replaced Jean Fernandez as coach after the Frenchman parted ways with the club by mutual consent. Uygun had a long stint with Qatar’s Umm Salal. His familiarity with Qatar’s football scene should help him stand in good stead as Al Gharafa embark on the second half of the season with great hopes and high ambitions.
Al Gharafa could register only two wins in the first phase and Bulent straightaway got down to business by putting the players through their paces over two sessions daily. The friendly they played against Qatar SC gave Bulent an opportunity to try out various combinations before giving a final shape to his strategy.
To top it all, Al Gharafa pulled off a coup of sorts by roping in Dutch star Wesley Sneijder for one-and-a-half seasons. The 33-year-old attacking midfielder has an impressive CV in his illustrious club career and is also the most capped player for the Netherlands.
At 33, Sneijder, clearly is well past his best. But what Gharafa want from him is his experience and to carry the club forward by nurturing the young talent. So it wasn’t a surprise that Sneijder has been given the captain’s armband and No. 10 jersey as soon as he touched Doha.
“I am very excited to be here,’ said a beaming Sneijder to packed audience. “I feel very welcomed. I am here to bring my experience and quality into the team. Also I want to help out the young players and improve their skills and qualities. From what I have heard, this team has lot of quality and also good young players. I hope we can have a great season together,” he added.
The most capped Dutch footballer with 133 matches under his belt, Sneijder, has played in three World Cups and also won Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010. Sneijder confirmed that he has signed an 18-month contract with Gharafa, who will be hoping he can change their fortunes with the club occupying seventh place in the table.
In fact, Al Gharafa and Al Ahli, both mid-table teams, are the only sides playing their first match post-break under new coaches. Al Ahli handed the reins to youth team coach George Jorge immediately after Spaniard Joaquin Caparros quit the job because of personal reasons, dealing a blow to The Brigadiers at a time when they were on a high after doing well towards the end of first phase.
Al Ahli had registered shock wins over strong contenders Al Rayyan and Al Sailiya in the last two rounds. They have recorded double the number of wins than Al Gharafa, but have a goal difference of -4 as against the rivals’ -1. Although they lost to German Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, who were in Doha for their annual winter training camp at Aspire, by a big margin, the friendly provided Jorge with a chance to assess his players in a match situation for the first time at the senior level.
The big question is will the result go Al Gharafa’s way this time, after their 1-1 draw in the first phase?
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