Al Rayyan will look to maintain their winning momentum in the QNB Stars League (QSL) when they meet hosts Al Arabi in a key encounter on Saturday.
Laurent Blanc-coached former QSL champions were struggling to live up to expectations this season, but the arrival of Colombian James Rodriguez and French star Steven Nzonzi has surely boosted their chances.
Just after the Amir Cup final against Al Sadd in which they went down fighting in a thrilling shootout at the brand new Al Thumama Stadium, Al Rayyan on Tuesday recorded their biggest win in the season against Al Sailiya (4-2). It was their second victory in seven matches.
They have registered three draws and lost on two occasions and are placed sixth in the standings with nine points. Despite the difficulty in today’s match against a strong Al Arabi outfit, Coach Blanc will not be satisfied with anything less than three points.
“My team is looking forward to achieving the victory and collecting three points against Al Arabi. We respect the Al Arabi team a lot. The match is different because Al Rayyan fans accept only victory. I hope that the victory over Al Sailiya (last week) will be a good motivation for my team,” Blanc said during a press conference on the eve of the match.
Despite the packed schedule, Blanc said his team had no problem when it comes to match preparations. “We had two days to prepare for this match. We have a lot of work because we played in the final of the Amir Cup, and then the Al Sailiya match. And after four days, we have another match. It is a difficult thing for the players at times, but fortunately, we have no problem preparing the team for this match,” he said.
World Cup winner Nzonzi, one of the Al Rayyan’s latest additions, said the team is more than capable of outplaying Al Arabi who are currently occupying the third spot in the points table.
“Our team is more than capable of winning against Al Arabi. Yes, it will be somewhat difficult against a distinguished team like Al Arabi, but we can do it. I think their midfield is good and we have to develop a strong plan. To win championships, I think we need time to play together and develop together. With time and hard work, we will compete for championships, but this thing does not come easily or quickly,” Nzonzi said.
On the other hand, Al Arabi coach Younes Ali is also ready for the confrontation. He also accepted that Al Rayyan is a difficult team to face, but said his players are waiting for high quality matches. “We are ready for what will be a very important match against Al Rayyan. Al Rayyan are a difficult team. Such matches do not need to motivate our players – they motivate themselves as they are usually waiting for such high-quality matches,” Ali said.
Ali said encounters between the two teams have always caught the attention. “The match will be the focus of everyone’s attention as two teams are highly motivated and ready for the match. Al Rayyan include strong players, especially after their new recruitments. Regardless of the Al Rayyan team, we look at ourselves, the level of the team and the performance with which we will appear in the match. We are looking to do our best and not focus on Al Rayyan. The match will be difficult and decisive for the two teams. The match between Al Arabi and Al Rayyan is always important and worth watching for the fans,” Ali said.
In today’s match, Al Arabi will miss the services of U-23 players Ahmed Suhail, Jassem Jaber, Abdullah Al Sulaiti and Mahmoud Abunada who are currently with the Olympic squad. They will also wait for the readiness of recovering players Abdulqadir Ilyas and Aron Gunnarsson.
Also today, high-flying Al Sadd will take on Al Ahli at Al Gharafa Stadium with Xavi Hernandez’ men looking to consolidate on their status as points leader before their colsest rivals Al Duhail face Qatar SC later at the same venue. Promoted Al Shamal face Al Khor at Al Arabi Stadium in another fixture in Round 8 today.
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