By Anil John/Doha
Is this the turning point that would end Al Duhail’s stranglehold on the QNB Stars League? Al Sadd would be hoping it certainly is after they demolished the defending champions in their rescheduled Week 9 clash at the Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Stadium yesterday to go top of the table with 38 points from 15 matches.
The 3-1 win was not achieved in a particularly spectacular way. But it was convincing, nonetheless. And more so, it came about after Al Duhail had taken the lead in the sixth minute through a penalty, converted by Youssef El Arabi in the sixth minute of play.
Over the past few years, Al Duhail, previously known as Lekhwiya, had acquired an aura of invincibility. It was deserved alright; after all, they had the best of coaches and the best of players who unfailingly did what was expected of them. When you win the league in the very first season of your existence, and then add five more titles in the next six years, there can’t be any question marks about your ability. But Al Sadd had run them close on a couple of occasions, missing out by a whisker, most notably in 2016-17 when Al Duhail won the title by a mere two-point margin (63-61).
This season Al Duhail had gone unbeaten until yesterday but it was evident for a few weeks that a defeat lurked around the corner, especially after they had conceded tame draws against Al Rayyan and Qatar Sports Club. The signs were all there and, as expected, it was Al Sadd who rose to the occasion.
With that the Wolves laid down the marker for the rest of the season. If Al Sadd were looking for a confidence boost ahead of the business end of the tournament, this was it.
Al Duhail made an impressive start to the match, working up plenty of speed on the flanks and threatening the Al Sadd defence a couple of times inside the first five minutes.
And sure enough they were the ones to take the lead after Italian referee Daniele Orsato awarded them a penalty after Boualem Khoukhi blocked Karim Boudiaf’s shot with his hand. Moroccan El Arabi, who took the shot, sent Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb the wrong way to give his side a 1-0 advantage.
Al Duhail’s joy didn’t last too long, however, as Al Sadd equalised four minutes later, through an own goal by Lucas Mendes. Star Al Sadd striker Akram Afif had made considerable ground before unleashing a shot at goal only for Mendes to deflect it into the Al Duhail goal while attempting a clearance.
As half chances went to waste on either side, the match appeared headed for a draw, causing consternation for Al Sadd coach Jesualdo Ferreira.
The prolific Baghdad Bounedjah had a fine opportunity to put Al Sadd ahead in the 34th minute after he was put through by Jung Woo-young but the Algerian’s effort was saved by Al Duhail goalie Khalifa Abu Bakr.
The teams were locked in a midfield battle in the second half, although Al Sadd had a few opportunities they failed to make good of.
In the 50th minute, Bounedjah back-heeled the ball to Afif, but his shot was deflected away for a corner. Boualem Khoukhi then received a fine cross from Hassan al-Haydos, but headed over the goal.
Al Sadd coach Jesualdo Ferreira then introduced Salem al-Hajri for Jung as his first substitution in the 64th minute. And after a few more wasted chances, al-Hajri struck in the 89th minute with a powerful shot, dribbling past three Al Duhail defenders inside the penalty area.
Al Duhail had five minutes of stoppage time to restore parity, but it was Al Sadd who found the net again after Bounedjah exchanged passes with Afif and struck from close range with two minutes remaining. Al Sadd then held firm and the referee soon blew the final whistle.
Even the dour Ferreira managed a smile.
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