Al Gharafa, Umm Salal in battle for fourth place
As the 2017-18 QNB Stars League season is coming to a close with only two more rounds of matches remaining, the battle for the fourth spot hotted up between Al Gharafa and Umm Salal.
Indeed, Al Gharafa and Umm Salal are the only teams in contention for the prestigious position that guarantees a place in the elite, four-team Qatar Cup.
Al Duhail (54 points), Al Sadd (46) and Al Rayyan (39) have been assured of the first, second and third position respectively. Al Duhail already won the championship with an unbeaten record after they beat Al Kharaitiyat 5-0 and Al Sadd lost 1-2 to Umm Salal last week. The Red Knights thus took an unassailable eight-point lead over second-placed Al Sadd.
The fourth-spot clash became intense after both Al Gharafa and Umm Salal won in Week 20, against Al Sailiya (3-0) and Al Sadd (2-1) respectively. Only one point separates the teams. Al Sailiya are further behind in the sixth position with 25 points.
Al Gharafa have 32 points from nine wins, five draws and six defeats, while Umm Salal, on 31, have to their credit eight victories, seven draws and five losses.
Al Gharafa scored 39 goals and conceded 31 to have a goal difference of +8, whereas Umm Salal scored 30 goals, but conceded 31 to be one goal in deficit.
Both teams changed coaches and roped in players in the January transfer window. And they reaped rewards for it, with Al Gharafa making the most of the changes.
It may be recalled that Al Gharafa were seventh in the QNB Stars League standings with just 11 points and two wins at the end of 11-round first phase!
Al Gharafa started doing extremely well ever since Turk Bulent Uygun took over from Frenchman Jean Fernandez before the start of second phase.
The Cheetahs bolstered their ranks by recruiting Dutch star Wesley Sneijder, Iranian ace Mehdi Taremi and Asim Madbo.
Umm Salal dismissed Egyptian Mahmoud Jaber and appointed Moroccan Talal El Karkouri. They had strengthened the squad in the winter with Tunisian attacking midfielder Oussama Darragi and Mohammed Barois.
And The Orange Fortress’ performance graph is on the rise since then.