By Sports Reporter Doha
Only one week into the 2020-21 QNB Stars League and Al Rayyan, the runners up last season, are in seventh position in the standings, something they would find jarring to the eye.
Their opening draw with Al Sailiya means they now have a bit of catching up to do and, with Al Gharafa lining up against them today, they would have to be at their best to pull off a victory.
“We have to do what we have to do especially since we had a difficult start to the season as a result of losing some players. But we should not say it as an excuse and we should focus only on presenting a strong and good match, because simply we must believe in our strength as a team,” said Al Rayyan coach Diego Aguirre at his pre-match press conference.
“We have great players and we have to continue what we did last season. We must admit that the Al Gharafa match is difficult, especially since they are one of the best teams.
“We must remember what happened last season, as Al Rayyan lost just one game and that was against Al Gharafa. Therefore, we must be wary of them.”
Top teams often emphasise the importance of stamping their authority on a tournament early, and Aguirre was keen to do that.
“We must definitely finish the first three weeks of action with maximum number of points. After that, there will be a break. We must utilise the break and see if there are players joining the team during that time. We have to face the reality,” Aguirre said.
Meanwhile, Al Gharafa coach Slavisa Jokanovic underscored the importance of his team’s match against Al Rayyan.
“We are trying to make the team ready to be in good shape through training. There is not much difference between our team and Al Rayyan. We know the importance of this match for both teams,” Jokanovic said.
“It is good that we scored full points against Qatar SC, but we must continue to progress and be ready to do what is necessary.
“Al Rayyan finished in the second place last season, one point behind Al Duhail. They are a team with good players. I am sure everyone who follows football in Qatar knows Al Rayyan well and we also know them well.
“However, our focus will be on what we see as a source of danger for us and we will also work to take advantage of their weaknesses. For us, it was important to start the season by winning over Qatar SC and collecting the three points, but that match has become a thing of the past and we must now focus on the next fixture against Al Rayyan,” said Jokanovic.
“Al Gharafa player Adlene Guedioura said, “What was important for us at the start of the new season was to present our best in the first three league matches, which are played in a space of 10 or 11 days.
“Having beaten Qatar SC, we will now play our second match against Al Rayyan and we know that it will be a big match. Al Rayyan are a good team having outstanding players, such as my fellow-Algerian Yacine Brahimi. They are solid in defence as well.”
Meanwhile, Al Sadd are flying high after thrashing al Kharaitiyat 5-1 in their opening match.
New signing Santi Cazorla scored two goals while Guilherme Torres also excelled, giving coach Xavi plenty of confidence as they take on Al Sailiya today.
“After the coronavirus break, we trained well. We now have a lot of options, in terms of experience and youth, and they will help us in the best way in all the games,” said Xavi.
He added: “Cazorla has had a good start, scoring two goals. Guilherme also was excellent and all the players who appeared today, including the substitutes, had an impact in getting their win.”
“It’s been an excellent start to the league, and a great win that gives us more confidence. I hope we continue with this quality in the coming games.”
In another match today, Qatar Sports Club will take on Al Kharaitiyat.
AFC nominates Al Sadd’s Afif, Bounedjah for Best Forwards in 2019 Champions League
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) nominated Al Sadd’s Akram Afif and Baghdad Bounedjah for the best forwards in the 2019 AFC Champions League.
The list for the best forwards in the 2019 AFC Champions League included Bafetimbi Gomis of Al Hilal, Shinzo Koroki of Urawa Red Diamonds, Omar al-Soma of Al Ahli, Akram Afif of Al Sadd, Graziano Pelle of Shandong Luneng, Hulk of Shanghai SIPG, Sebastian Giovinco of Al Hilal, and Baghdad Bounedjah of Al Sadd.
Akram Afif began the year as an AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 winner and ended it as the AFC Player of the Year, producing some fine form in between for Al Sadd as the Qatari side again came within a game of reaching the final. The Doha native outscored his usually prolific teammate Baghdad Bounedjah while also creating more chances for his teammates than any other forward in the competition, afc.com reported.
Afif’s most notable contributions came in the knockout rounds, with goals home and away against domestic rivals Al Duhail seeing Al Sadd into the quarter-finals, where he added another as Al Nassr were next to fall. The winger was on the scoresheet again in the semi-final against Al Hilal, but his second-leg penalty ultimately proved inconsequential as the Qataris’ comeback was thwarted by the eventual winners.
Prolific in 2018 with a record-equalling 13 goals to his name, Baghdad Bounedjah may not have been quite as clinical in the 2019 campaign but it wasn’t for want of trying, the Algerian’s 36 shots on goal more than any of his fellow strikers.
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