By Sports Reporter
The battle for top-four is set for a thrilling finish on Thursday in the QNB Stars League. Al Arabi have all but secured the fourth place, but they will have to evade defeat against Umm Salal on Thursday to avoid a last-round heart-break. Going into the final match of their campaign, The Dream Team are fourth with 33 points, three more than fifth-placed Gharafa. They play Umm Salal Thursday, while Gharafa (30 points) take on Al Sailiya, hoping to win and also wishing Arabi lose.
In the previous round, ten-man Al Arabi secured a dramatic stoppage-time 3-2 win over Al Gharafa after substitute Ibrahim Kalla slotted home a quickly-taken free-kick by another substitute Abdulqadir Ilyas. Al Arabi’s coach Younes Ali said would go all out for victory and not play a cautious game against sixth-placed Umm Salal.
“We are expecting a difficult game against Umm Salal, who are putting up a distinguished performance in the league under coach Wesam Rizik. For us, it is an important game, we are looking for the three points to seal the fourth place which we deserve, especially after the circumstances that the team went through the entire season,” he said.
“Certainly, we went through difficult situations, including injuries and absences of important players. We believe in teamwork and team spirit that has helped us tide over the crises. I will not say I am completely satisfied with the season, but the team has greatly improved when you look at the points collected and our position compared to previous seasons. Most importantly, the entire season’s efforts should culminate in winning the next match,” added Younes.
Al Gharafa’s face an easier opponent in a relegation-threatened Al Sailiya, who must win to avoid dropping to second division as they are just ahead of bottom-side Al Khor on goal difference with 13 points.
Al Gharafa coach Andrea Stramaccioni said Sailiya will be a dangerous opponent today, considering they are battling relegation. “I do not agree that the match will be easy. Rather, it will be very difficult for two reasons. The first is that Al Sailiya play in order to avoid relegation to the second division. The second is that they did not lose in the league during a number of recent matches, which shows that they were technically very good in the second leg. As far as we are concerned, we are coming from a strong match against Qatar SC in the Amir Cup quarter-final and not all of our players are in good shape, so it will be a difficult match,” Stramaccioni noted.
Al Sailiya coach Sami Trabelsi is hoping for an upset against Al Gharafa. “The match will be crucial because it is the last chance for us. We must achieve a positive result to hold on to the hope of staying in the First Division (QNB Stars League),” said Trabelsi.
“Al Gharafa have outstanding local and foreign professional players. We are ready for the match and the goal must be achieved, which is to win. Each player understands the importance and difficulty of the match,” he added.
Meanwhile, Al Khor will host Qatar SC today, with nothing less than a win keeping their chances of staying up alive. Al Khor are on the bottom of the points table with 13 points, behind Al Sailiya on goal-difference (-26 as against Al Sailiya’s -20).
Al Khor coach Andre Lima said the match is most important game for his side. “We have prepared well for this match. We have no choice but to win. We have to play with high fighting spirit and get the three points,” Lima said yesterday. “I cannot talk about the strategy with which we will play against Qatar SC, but we all know that this is our last chance, so team spirit is required to win this match.”
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