Al Sadd retained the HH The Amir Cup after a hard-fought victory over Al Rayyan in penalties at the Al Thumama Stadium, which was inaugurated Friday.
In the presence of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, both the teams lit up the newly-constructed 40,000-capacity stadium, which follows Khalifa International, Al Janoub, Education City, Ahmad Bin Ali and Al Bayt in being declared ready to host the FIFA World Cup 2022.
While Al Sadd went in as overwhelming favourites, Al Rayyan gave them a tough fight but could not deny the Wolves their record 18th Amir Cup and 76th overall title.
The teams were deadlocked 1-1 in regulation time, with Rayyan's Yacine Brahimi (44th minute) and Sadd's Santi Cazorla (58th minute) scoring through penalties. In a match with a handful of contentious penalty calls by referee Abdullah al-Athba, Sadd thought they had nicked it before the end of regulation time, when they were awarded a penalty after Akram Afif was fouled in the box. But the referee reversed his decision after a VAR review as the title clash went into penalties.
After the first four penalties were converted by both teams, Rayyan’s Shojae Khalilzadeh’s spot kick was saved by goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb before Jung Woo-young won it for Sadd with a decisive strike.
Xavi Hernandez, who won his seventh trophy in two years as Sadd manager, said his team ‘deserved’ to win the Amir Cup. “We played a good match and appeared at a good level and I am proud of that. The match was unique and was of high quality. But Sadd deserved to win the title after a good performance throughout the tournament. The victory will serve as a motivation for us the rest of the season,” the former Barcelona midfield maestro said.
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Sadd started with the strongest possible line up with Spanish midfielder and last year’s player of the season Cazorla returning to the starting XI after recovering from injury. Al Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc too had the strongest squad to pick from with Colombia star James Rodriguez starting along with Ahmed Yasser, who made his first start since signing for the club.
As expected it was Sadd who went all out on attack and should have taken lead in the ninth minute. However, Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah shot just wide from the edge of the box. The Algerian had scored both goals for Sadd in last year’s 2-1 Amir Cup final victory against Al Arabi.
Rayyan too could have gone ahead in the 14th minute but Mowafak Awad inexplicably skied the ball from just six yards with al-Sheeb not even in the picture.
Four minutes later, Akram Afif, who was a livewire for Sadd and a constant threat on the left, tried his luck from a tight angle but the ball went out after hitting the side post. Afif also turned Khaled Muftah inside out and sent in a cross, but Al Sadd failed to make use of it.
The game’s first controversial call came in the 39th minute, when Bounedjah went down after a contact from Yacine Brahimi. But the referee al-Athba chose to wave the play on and interestingly did not go for a VAR review.
With Sadd pressing for the goal, Afif almost produced a stunner but his sweet strike in the 40th minute hit the top of the post. Out of nowhere it was Rayyan, who got a lucky break after Yohan Boli was brought down by al-Sheeb, with al-Athba pointing to the spot after a VAR review. Captain Brahimi coolly converted the penalty as Rayyan went into the break dreaming of a seventh Amir Cup title.
However, Sadd were not one to give up easily and had two good chances to score in the first 10 minutes after the break. In the 49th minute, Bounedjah header went just wide after a cross from Santi Cazorla, while Afif hit it just over the bar after playing a 1-2 with Hassan al-Haydos.
At the other end, Boli’s claim for penalty was not given, while Sadd’s persistence finally paid off when they won the penalty after Dame Traore's stamp on Khoukhi Boualem. Cazorla stepped in to convert the penalty as Sadd were right back in the contest.
Sadd controlled the match thereafter but could not find the net. With just two minutes remaining, the brilliant Afif looked to have won another penalty after a challenge from Khalilzadeh but al-Athba reversed his decision after another VAR review.
But Sadd players kept their nerves in the penalty shootout, while al-Sheeb produced a terrific save off Khalilzadeh as Sadd’s domestic domination continued.