The newly-built Education City Stadium hosted its first match as Al Sadd sailed past Al Kharaitiyat 5-1 as the new season of QNB Stars League kicked-off on Thursday.
The Education City Stadium – one of the eight venues for the FIFA Qatar 2022 World Cup, was digitally launched in June this year with a special programme as a tribute to frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic
Dubbed the 'Diamond in the Desert', Education City Stadium has a capacity of 40,000 and is set to host matches up to and including the quarter-finals stage during the FIFA World Cup 2022. The stadium is located in the heart of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, and surrounded by leading universities, educational institutions and recreational facilities.
Before the kick-off, Al Sadd players Akram Afif and Tarek Salman were handed over their QFA Award trophies. Afif was named the Best Player and top scorer, while Salman received the player of the year award in the under-23 category.
Sadd, meanwhile were dominant on the pitch, with new recruit Santi Cazorla scoring two goals. The former Arsenal midfielder found the net in 27th and 60th minutes, while he also made an assist. Baghdad Bounedjah (54th minute) and Akram Afif (84th minute) were the other scorers for The Wolves, who were also helped by an own goal by Al Kharaitiyat’s Mohamed Salam in the 71st minute.
Spaniard Cazorla continued his good form in Qatar, having scored on his debut for Al Sadd in their Ooredoo Cup 2-0 semifinal victory over Al Ahli on 29th August. Rachid Tiberkanine gave Al Kharaitiyat’s sole reply in the 64th minute.
Al Sadd's Santi Cazorla celebrates after scoring against Al Kharaitiyat at the Education City Stadium
Sadd, who had finished third in the recently-concluded 2019-20 season, dominated the proceedings and their players Nam-Tae-Hee, Hassan Al Haydous and Brazilian Guilermo Torres, making his debut in Qatar, and Abdelkarim Hassan all unleashed shots against Al Kharaitiyat, who are back in the top flight after a gap of one season. The Thunders had finished at the bottom in the 2018-19 season and were relegated to the Second Division. However, they stormed back into the First Division by emerging as winners in last season’s Second Division.
Meanwhile, Al Sailiya held Al Rayyan to a 1-1 draw at the Al Gharafa Stadium. Mohanad Ali (28th minute) scored for Al Sailiya, while Dame Traore (52nd minute) was Al Rayyan’s scorer. Possession was even and Al Rayyan would rue the two dropped points in their bid to regain the league shield. The Lions had finished runners-up and even outplayed Al Sadd who could end up third in the 2019-20 QNB Stars League.
Al Rayyan, coached by Uruguayan Diego Aguirre, lagged behind champions Al Duhail (52 points) only by one point in the final standings. As far as Al Sailiya are concerned, they are a determined lot this time around, as they could finish only in the fifth position last season, a below-par performance compared to their third-place finish in the 2018-19 season, which was their best-ever in history.
As a result, there are many new faces in their squad and the team’s long-standing Tunisian coach Sami Trabelsi had said ahead of the start of the season that they were competing for top positions, if not for the title, this season. Rayyan’s best chance in the first half went to Abdulaziz Hazza in the 16th minute, but his shot was saved by Sailiya’s much-experienced goalkeeper Amine Lecomte.
Mohanad, who has previously plied his trade in Al Duhail, took Sailiya ahead by slotting home a pass from Tiago Bezerra, who switched to The Peregrines this season from Al Khor.
Rayyan were not to be denied as they found the equaliser not long after the resumption. Traore was on target with a bicycle kick when the ball rebounded off the horizontal following a Yacine Brahimi corner kick.