Al Arabi ended a 26-year wait to reach the final of the Amir Cup with a convincing 2-0 win over Al Markhiya at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium yesterday.
After several years of frustration, Al Arabi fans will be dreaming of a ninth Amir Cup title, though holders Al Duhail or Al Sadd wait for them in the final.
Goals from Aron Gunnarsson (17th minute) and Abdulaziz al-Ansari (59th) were enough for Al Arabi to see off Markhiya, ending the second division team’s dream run in the prestigious championship.
On the eve of the game, the threat of another Markhiya upset was looming for Arabi, but coach Heimir Hallgrimson was able to call upon Marc Muniesa, Hamdi Harbaoui and Mehdi Torabi, while Sebastian Soria made a second half appearance. However, Torabi’s night ended early as the winger was substituted after getting injured in the 22nd minute.
That was the only setback Hallgrimson suffered as Al Arabi dominated the game, and should have scored more if not for some poor finishing.
“We deserved the victory,” said a delighted Hallgrimson later. “I want to congratulate Al Markhiya for their strong performance and showing great spirit. I am satisfied with the overall performance of my team, although we could have scored more goals,” the Icelander added.
Hallgrimson said it was a ‘step in the right path’ and said Al Arabi need to do more to reach the heights of past glory.
“We are proud to make a return to the Amir Cup final. It is a step in the right path for us. We are doing a good job but we still need to work hard as it is still a long way to go for us. I hope this achievement is the beginning of something exciting and we can reach the levels of Al Sadd and Al Duhail.”
Markhiya goalkeeper Basel Samih was a busy man on the night and he made his first save in the eighth minute, diving to his right to keep out Hamdi Amdulmaged.
Samih though couldn’t keep out Iceland midfielder Gunnarsson’s strike. After Torabi’s free kick was headed away by Aldouni Mohamad it fell perfectly on to Gunnarsson, who smashed it onto the net after a deflection of Markhiya defender Anas Bani Yaseen.
Markhiya coach Omar Naji’s plan for his players to cross the ball into the box nearly worked. Qatar U-23 player Mohamed al-Qahtani played in fine cross from right, but Jameel al-Yahmadi failed to make a connection.
Arabi then went close to doubling the lead as Mehrad Keshrazi dribbled past three defenders only to hit a weak shot into the hands of Samih.
Markhiya were a improved side in the second half but Arabi still dictated the play. Gunnarsson once again played a key role in Arabi’s goal in the 59th minute. The Iceland captain’s precise pass found al-Ansari, who then played a one-two with Harbaoui, before smashing into the top right corner.
Al Arabi could have scored more but their energy level dropped significantly in the last 15 minutes even as Markhiya failed to take any advantage.
Markhiya coach Omar Najhi admitted Al Arabi deserved to win but was not happy with a contentious penalty claim, which was not awarded to them by the referee.
“I’m happy that we managed to reach this far in the tournament and hope to take this confidence to the league,” Najhi said.
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