By Sports Reporter/Doha
Baghdad Bouendjah made a triumphant return from a three-month injury layoff to help Al Sadd nail their Qatar Clasico against Al Rayyan with a convincing 2-0 win at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium yesterday.
Bounedjah, who suffered a fracture in November, was introduced as a substitute by Al Sadd coach Jesualdo Ferreira midway through the second half, and the 26-year-old did not disappoint, tapping in for his team’s second goal in the 79th minute after fellow Algerian Jugurtha Hamroun had put The Wolves ahead with a 44th minute strike.
The victory helped Al Sadd stay just two points behind a rampant Al Duhail, who thrashed Al Gharafa 5-1 to continue their unbeaten run in the QNB Stars League in their quest for their sixth league title, and the first under their new name after Lekhwiya and El Jaish were merged at the end of last season.
Al Rayyan, on the other hand, have fallen seven points off the pace, virtually ending their hopes of winning the title with just six matches to be played.
Boasting a strong fan base, Al Sadd and Al Rayyan have a storied rivalry in Qatar with matches played before decent crowds producing a colourful atmosphere which many other teams cannot claim.
Unfortunately for the Al Rayyan fans, it was an outing they would like to forget as Michael Laudrup’s men failed to live up to their expectations, especially since they had won the first leg of the Qatar Clasico.
The match itself didn’t pick up pace until late in the first half during which both teams missed a number of chances.
In the 26th minute Al Sadd captain Xavi’s powerful shot was saved by a diving Al Rayyan goalkeeper Oumar Barry, and the very next minute Abdelrazzaq Hamdallah was thwarted by the Wolves goalie Saad al-Sheeb.
Xavi was at his elegant best, keeping his forwards busy and in the process keeping the Al Rayyan defence on edge.
And sure enough it was the Spanish and Barcelona legend who provided the assist for Al Sadd’s first goal, a defence-splitting pass that found the unmarked Hamroun, who flicked the ball over the onrushing Barry.
Al Sadd continued to enjoy more of the ball in the second session (57 per cent at the final whistle) even as Al Rayyan bolstered their forward line by replacing midfielder Daniel Goumou with Sebastian Soria.
Meanwhile, a hardworking Xavi was unlucky on a couple of occasions as his shots went off the mark.
Al Sadd coach Jesualdo Ferreira introduced Akram Afif, signed recently from Villarreal, Spain, in place of Ali Asad, whereas Al Rayyan players, especially their attackers, seemed to be running out of steam as the match wore on.
Bounedjah replaced Hamroun in the 74th minute and immediately made a big impact by doubling The Wolves’ lead with a placing shot from close after Barry fumbled with a collection.
Al Rayyan made some last-ditch efforts culminating in Soria’s header over the bar but the scoreline remained unchanged.
Earlier, Almoez Ali and Youssedf Msakni recorded a brace each while Youssef El Erabi netted from a penalty as Al Duhail thrashed Al Gharafa 5-1.
It was their 13th win in 16 matches, taking their tally to 42, while Al Sadd have 40 and Al Rayyan 35.
Captain Msakni’s goals came in the 19th and 52nd minutes while El Arabi (23rd-min penalty) and Almoez Ali (56th and 88th) scored for Al Duhail.
Ahmed Alaaeldin pulled one back for a 10-man Al Gharafa in the 41st.
Al Duhail were, as always, in tremendous form and launched raid after raid into the the rival territory, giving a harrowing time to the Al Gharafa defence.
Msakni opened the scoring, his 15th goal this season, after receiving a pass from El Arabi. The Red Knights, the only unbeaten side so far, doubled the lead through El Arabi, who converted a penalty, awarded after Msakni was tripped in the area by Fahad al-Shammari.
El Arabi, the top scorer in the competition with 21 goals after this match, had a penalty saved by goalkeeper Yousef Hassan.
Al Gharafa were reduced to 10 men soon after the start of second half when defender Fahad received his second yellow card following a foul on Murad Naji.
The Cheetahs then brought in Dutch midfield great Wesley Sneijder and Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi, who were rested in view of their AFC Champions League match against Al Jazira on 12th February, but to no avail.
Alaaeldin reduced the margin capitalising on confusion among the Al Duhail defenders.
Msakni was at it again and this one was a brilliant effort from a tight angle from the left after a Karim Boudiaf through pass.
Almoez, back after helping Qatar finish third at the recent Asian Under-23 Championship in China where he also emerged as the top scorer with six goals, then came up with a two-goal effort, the first which was a header near the hour mark off a cross from Ismail Mohamed and then towards the end, with substitute Nam Tae-Hee doing the spadework.
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