Al Sadd withstood an inspired performance by Al Arabi to win the Amir Cup for a record 17th time with a 2-1 win at the brand new Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan yesterday. Watched by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Al Sadd were helped by two fortuitous goals from Baghdad Bounedjah, while Al Arabi found the net through Aron Gunnarsson.
At Qatar’s latest FIFA World Cup venue, which was named Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium after a short and elegant ceremony on Qatar’s National Day, the two teams put on an excellent display worthy of the special occasion. In the end though, the Al Arabi players and fans were disappointed after their 27-year-old long drought for the title continued.
The triumph was Al Sadd’s 73rd title across all tournaments in their glorious history, while it was the fourth Qatar domestic title for their head coach Xavi Hernandez, who has also led them to the Sheikh Jassim Cup, the Qatar Cup and the Ooredoo Cup last year. With yesterday’s victory, Sadd also banished the memory of their loss to arch rival Al Duhail in the last year’s Amir Cup final at the Al Janoub Stadium.
“We are very happy to win the Amir Cup. The atmosphere here was amazing and I want to thank Qatar for this great show,” Xavi said. “It was a difficult match. Al Arabi was so different, not like the Ooredoo Cup final. I also want to congratulate Al Arabi for their strong performance. We are very happy and we want to win more trophies and the Amir Cups. I am very happy to be the part of this strong side,” he added.
The former Barcelona star said he had told his players that it was never going to be easy playing a Cup final and he was proved right.
“Yes, I want to congratulate the country on the National Day. We are happy that we won. It is a well-deserving win. I have to congratulate Al Arabi for a good fight and for reaching the final. I told players before the final that it is never easy to win big matches. I want to congratulate the supporters of this big club,” he said
“Mission is complete, yes. We want to compete in every big competition like the AFC Champions League. I think we are the biggest club (in Qatar) and let’s see what happens in the AFC Champions League (next year). We must try to do better than last time. We have a big squad and I am happy to be part of this successful side,” he added.
Al Sadd were undoubtedly the overwhelming favourites coming into the final, thanks to their recent dominance and also due to Arabi’s dismal form this season. While Al Sadd enjoy the top spot in the league, Al Arabi are one rung above the bottom in the 12-team championship. But on the night, the Al Arabi players showed grit and determination, which they have seldom exhibited in the league matches.
They didn’t, however, start on a bright note, conceding a goal as early as the third minute. With the 50 percent capacity crowd still taking in the sights of the magnificent stadium, Al Sadd went ahead thanks to some luck.
After Sebastian Soria lost the ball to Woo Young Jung in the midfield, Al Sadd captain Hassan al-Haydos cut the ball back to Akram Afif, who backheeled it into an empty box. The onrushing Santi Cazorla took a shot, which deflected off Bounedjah as Al Arabi goalkeeper Mahmoud Abunada watched helplessly.
It was the perfect start for Al Sadd as Al Arabi coach Heimir Hallgrimsson had a worried look on his face in the dugout. But his players didn’t allow their shoulders to droop. With Cazorla as the heartbeat of Al Sadd’s midfield, they enjoyed most of the possession but Al Arabi pressed hard and they found the equaliser in the 23rd minute.
After an unmarked header from Soria off a corner hit the post, there was a huge scramble for the ball in the box. Ayoub Azzi took aim at the goal, but Jung put his body on the line to block it before Gunnarsson bundled it in. The linesman had his flag up for offside, but the VAR correctly awarded the goal after Jung had clearly played Arabi players in.
With Cazorla dictating al Sadd’s play, the league leaders were always within a chance to restore the lead. The former Arsenal and Villarreal midfielder himself went all in with a right-footed strike in the 30th minute, but the ball just evaded the post. Six minutes later, Al Arabi goalkeeper Abunada kept his team in the game with a quick reflex save to deny Boundejah’s header.
With al Sadd piling on the pressure relentlessly, Al Arabi finally cracked in the 44th minute. Just like Al Sadd’s first goal, it was another deflection from Bounedjah that cost al Arabi dearly. After Akram Afif played the ball to Guilherme just outside the penalty area, the Brazilian’s shot ricocheted off Bounedjah and into the net.
In the second half, it wasn’t until 56th minute that a goal was in sight as Al Sadd substitute Nam Tae-hee’s shot brushed off the top of the crossbar. al Sadd had another chance to double in the lead in the 78th minute, but Bounedjah could not connect his header off a perfect cross from Cazorla.
With 10 minutes to go, Arabi dug in and gave their everything as Hallgrimsson introduced Mohammed Salah El Neel and Abdulaziz al-Ansari. They nearly had an equaliser in the 84th minute but Soria’s header off a set piece went wide off the post. Al Arabi made a couple of more attacks but Sadd were able to hold on.
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