Action, thrill unabated in QNB Stars League
Excitement aplenty and action galore. The thrill continues unabated. That sums up the 2017-18 QNB Stars League season, where 20 rounds of matches have been completed.
Even though Al Duhail emerged as the champions with 54 points last week, it is a foregone conclusion that the remaining two rounds of games will be fought keenly.
Al Duhail, formed this season by merging Lekhwiya and El Jaish clubs, won the chamoiionship with an unbeaten record, the only team to do so. They took an unassailable eight-point lead over second-placed Al Sadd.
Besides the title, the second and third places were also decided after Week 20 action. Al Rayyan are certain to finish third. They have 39 points now, seven ahead of fourth-placed Al Gharafa.
The battle for the fourth spot has hotted up after Al Gharafa and Umm Salal both registsred wins last week. Only one point separates the teams and either of them will end up fourth and thereby qualify for the Qatar Cup as Al Sailiya are further behind in the sixth position with 25 points.
Performance-wise, some teams made significant improvement, while some others went on the decline.
Al Duhail have always maintained consistency and their unbeaten streak is proof of that. They registered the most number of victories too (17). Al Sadd have 15 and Al Rayyan 12.
Interestingly, Al Duhail and Al Sadd shared the honours for conceding the least number of goals (23) even though Al Duhail had netted 77 times compared to Al Sadd’s 59.
Al Duhail have a goal difference of +54 as against Al Sadd’s +36.
Al Duhail players Youssef El Arabi (24) and Youssef Msakni (23) are on top of the scorers’ chart as well.
The second spot changed hands between Al Sadd and Al Rayyan, but Al Sadd occupied it regularly after the second phase of the competition started.
The battle in the middle is sure to get intensified between Al Sailiya, Al Ahli, Qatar SC and Al Arabi. The last two teams moved clear of the danger zone with their victories in Week 20. It was Al Arabi’s hat-trick of wins too.
The same will be the case at the bottom. Al Khor are better off with 18 points than Al Kharaitiyat (13) and Al Markhiya (12).
Al Markhiya would have been off the relegation zone had they not been docked six points for administrative mistakes regarding fielding of players. The Oryxes’ victory against Al Sadd in the very first week of QNB Stars League was overturned as they fielded an ineligible player.
Then, in Week 18, they beat Al Gharafa but met with the same fate for fielding six resident players which was a clear violation of the rule. The number of resident players to be included in the start list in the QNB Stars League fixtures should not exceed five.
The bottom team will directly go down, while the 11-placed side go into a play-off with Second Division runners-up.
On the technical front, eight clubs changed coaches, the latest being Tunisian Adel Sellimi replacing Yousef Adam at Al Markhiya.
Al Gharafa started doing extremely well ever since Turk Bulent Uygun took over from Frenchman Jean Fernandez before the start of second phase.
Similarly, Al Arabi’s fortunes changed after Croat Luka Bonacic replaced Tunisian Qais Yaakoubi towards the end of first phase.
Umm Salal fired Egyptian Mahmoud Jaber and in came Moroccan Talal El Karkouri. And The Orange Fortress’ performance graph is on the rise since then.
Qatar SC replaced Argentinian Gabriel Calderon and The Kings, who once were rooted to the bottom, are now eighth with 22 points.
Al Khor dismissed Frenchman Laurent Banide and appointed Tunisian Nassif Al Bayawi, while Al Kharaitiyat replaced Tunisian Ahmed Al Ajlani with the club’s youth coach Yasser Sibaei.
Al Ahli also changed coach when Spaniard Joaquin Caparros quit due to personal reasons. They handed the reins to his compatriot George Jorge.
Only Al Duhail (Djamel Belmadi), Al Sadd (Jesualdo Ferreira), Al Rayyan (Michael Laudrup) and Al Sailiya (Sami Trabelsi) did not change coaches and they benefited from that to a great extent.
Al Sailiya did very well in the first phase and were fourth for long, but could not sustain the momentum in the second half of the season.
The winter transfer window was another opportunity for clubs to strengthen their ranks and many teams gained from it.
Al Gharafa reaped the most rewards after the arrival of Dutch star Wesley Sneijder, Iranian ace Mehdi Taremi and Asim Madbo.
Qatar SC changed three professionals and brought in players such as Luis Jimenez (from Al Gharafa), Syrian striker Osama Omari and Brazilian forward Patrick Fabiano.
Goalkeeper Amin Lecomte returned to Al Duhail after his loan move to Al Khor.
Those who joined Al Sadd were Abdulkarim Hassan, Hamed Ismail, Ali Faridoun, Akram Afif and Sami Sabit. Al Rayyan recruited Hossam Kamal, Ahmed Yasser and Abdulrahman Al Harazi, while Al Sailiya took on board Alaa Al Saasi.
Umm Salal roped in Oussama Darragi and Mohammed Barois, Al Ahli recruited Mohammed Fuad, Hamza Younes, Fahd Shnein, Al Arabi had Hamad Al Harbi, Ivan Fuchster, Kwame Karikari, Ali Alob and Ahmad Al Nahawi.
The other movers were Ali Al Mohannadi, Abdullah Al Batat, Yousef Ahmed, Khalifa Abubaker, Mowaffaq Awad, Ahmed Al Hifi, Mishal Al Shammari and the like.
Al Kharaitiyat have suffered the most defeats (13) so far. Next come Al Khor and Al Markhiya (12). Al Kharaitiyat also conceded the most number of goals (51).