By Sports Reporter/Doha
After nearly six months of action, the QNB Stars League approaches its final straight with Al Duhail on the cusp of victory and Al Sadd hoping for a miracle or two to gatecrash their party.
Al Duhail have had an incredible run this season having yet to face defeat and sitting comfortably at the top of the standings on 54 points from 19 matches, while Al Sadd are five behind in second position.
That makes it imperative for Al Sadd to win all their three remaining matches and hope Al Duhail suffer some sort of a meltdown and lose at least two of theirs.
Al Duhail will wrap up the title today if they beat Al Kharaitiyat and Al Sadd lose or even draw against Umm Salal.
It’s a tricky situation and Al Sadd coach Jesualdo Ferreira appeared clearly frustrated, saying the gruelling Asian Champions League had also taken a toll on his players.
“Every game is important and we are trying to win it, whether locally or at the Asian level. The teams that are competing in the AFC Champions League are suffering from fatigue much more than others and we are no different,” the veteran Portuguese coach said.
“Umm Salal are not playing the Champions League and therefore they have got a longer break between matches. Their preparations for the game against us have been routine, unlike our players, who have returned after the match against Nasaf in Uzbekistan. They are tired, but we will work hard to win.”
Ferreira added that the hectic schedule has formed him to rotate the players.
“We have to rotate players as Umm Salal are a strong team that needs to win to be in the top four. I am thinking of fielding a different line-up for this match, so the players will not get tired further and get exposed to injuries.
“We have three games in the league and our philosophy is to win every game we play in. We could not win the previous game against Al Duhail.”
Al Sadd said it was not the absence of Xavi through injury that contributed to his team’s loss against Nasaf.
Xavi injured his back muscle during their key QNB Stars League Week 19 clash against Al Duhail, which they lost 3-4, and had come out of the field in the first half.
“I do not think the absence of Xavi had a psychological impact on the team despite the great benefit we get from him. Exhaustion was the main reason for the defeat to Nasaf,” said Ferreira.
Umm Salal will have the services of Adil Rhaili and Ismail Ibrahim, who sat out of their drawn game against Qatar SC that ended in a 2-2 draw.
Meanwhile, Al Duhail should have no problems in disposing off Al Kharaitiyat.
Al Duhail had taken a giant leap in their title march by beating closest challengers and second-placed Al Sadd last week.
Al Duhail have the top two scorers in Moroccan striker Youssef El Arabi (23 goals) and Tunisian attacking midfielder Youssef Msakni (21). Djamel Belmadi’s men have also been benefiting from a healthy competition between them as far as goals were concerned.
Al Duhail had won 8-2 in the first phase.
In another match today, Al Sailiya will look to put behind their disappointment of losing to Al Khor when they take on Al Gharafa, with both teams have the common aim of top-four finish in the tournament.
Al Gharafa are fourth with 29 points, while Al Sailiya are sixth on 25 points. They both are sure to go all out to achieve their goal as only two more rounds will remain afterwards.
Al Rayyan, who stand third in the standings with 39 points, take on Al Arabi.
The Lions had recently lost out in the title race and now trail leaders Al Duhail by 12 points and second-placed Al Sadd by seven.
Al Rayyan have Abderrazaq Hamdallah, Rodrigo Tabata and Sebastian Soria to lead their charge, while Al Arabi have the likes of Khalfan Ibrahim, Diego Jardel and Kwame Karikari to deliver the goods.
Al Arabi have been doing well of late and they will be keen to build on that as they seek a hat-trick of wins.
The match between Al Rayyan and Al Arabi will grab the most attention mainly because of their loyal fan base.
Al Sailiya vs Al Gharafa (Al Ahli Stadium, 18:00), Umm Salal vs Al Sadd (Al Gharafa Stadium, 18:00), Al Rayyan vs Al Arabi (Al Sadd Stadium, 20:10) and Al Kharaitiyat vs Al Duhail (Al Khor Stadium, 20:10)
FIXTURES OF FINAL TWO ROUNDS ANNOUNCED
The Qatar Stars League Management announced the venues and kick-off times of QNB Stars League’s Weeks 21 and 22 fixtures.
The last two rounds are expected to witness more intense competition among the teams, be it to guarantee a spot among the top four and thus qualify for the Qatar Cup or to avoid relegation.
The bottom-placed team will directly get relegated to the Second Division, while the 11th-placed side will go into a play-off against Second Division runners-up.
In order to ensure equal advantage for all teams, the last two weeks’ fixtures will be played on same dates with simultaneous kick-offs. Slight changes may be made in order to allow the host broadcaster to cover as many matches as possible.
Week 21 fixtures are scheduled on 17th March at 18:05. It will be Al Arabi vs Al Gharafa at the Al Arabi Stadium, Al Rayyan vs Umm Salal at the Qatar SC Stadium, Al Kharaitiyat vs Qatar SC at the Al Khor Stadium, Al Sadd vs Al Khor at Al Sadd Stadium, Al Markhiya vs Al Duhail at Al Gharafa Stadium and Al Ahli vs Al Sailiya at Al Ahli Stadium.
Week 22 fixtures will be played on 7th April at 18:15. It will be Al Sadd vs Al Kharaitiyat at Al Sadd Stadium, Al Rayyan vs Al Ahli at Qatar SC Stadium, Al Duhail vs Al Sailiya at Al Duhail Stadium, Al Khor vs Al Arabi at Al Khor Stadium, Umm Salal vs Al Markhiya at Al Ahli Stadium and Al Gharafa vs Qatar SC at Al Gharafa Stadium.
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