The year that went by portrayed the club football scene in Qatar in a good light in terms of action on the field, matters off it as well as achievements by teams and players individually.
A new year has dawned, with the teams looking forward to success and glory as ever, and QSL Online takes a look at the high points of 2017.
Lekhwiya lifted the league shield for the fifth time, the earlier occasions being 2010-11, 2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-15.
However, Al Sadd were the side that gained the most as far as number of titles were concerned. The Wolves lifted both Qatar Cup and the most prestigious Emir’s Cup, defeating El Jaish and Al Rayyan respectively by an identical 2-1 margin, before winning the season-opening Sheikh Jassim Cup, played between league champions and Emir’s Cup winners. Al Sadd got the better of Al Duhail 4-2.
At a personal level, Lekhwiya walked away with three major awards at the Qatar Football Association’s end-of-season ceremony.
South Korean playmaker Nam Tae-Hee walked away with the best-player award while Almoez Ali bagged the honours for the best Under-23 player.
Moroccan striker Youssef El Arabi’s top-scorer award (24 goals) made it three in total for them. Al Sadd’s Baghdad Bounedjah was close behind on 23.
Al Sadd’s Jesualdo Ferreira was adjudged the best coach.
The tournament was rebranded in the 2017-18 season as QNB Stars League that witnessed a slimmer and sleeker competition with 12 teams instead of 14 and 22 rounds of action as against 26.
The league’s new logo was launched at a Press conference, attended by Qatar Stars League Management CEO Hani Taleb Ballan, Acting Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Hassan Al Kuwari, Acting Executive Director of Competitions and Football Development Ahmed Al Adsani and QNB Assistant General Manager of Public Relations Salem Al Nuaimi, among others.
Lekhwiya and El Jaish got merged into Al Duhail, while Qatar SC and Al Markhiya got promoted. Al Markhiya celebrated the top-flight entry in style, shocking 13-time champions Al Sadd in the first kick-off of the new season. However, that result was overturned as The Oryxes fielded an ineligible player.
Al Duhail were in pole position right from the start. They asserted their supremacy after every round to remain as the only unbeaten side with 29 points when the competition’s first phase, consisting of 11 rounds, concluded. The Red Knights were held twice, by Al Gharafa and Al Sailiya.
The second position changed hands between Al Sadd and Al Rayyan, but the former managed to finish just behind Al Duhail with 27 points, followed by Al Rayyan (25) and Al Sailiya (19).
The biggest highlight of fixtures was the Qatar Clasico in Week 6 fought between Al Sadd and Al Rayyan, which the latter won 2-1. The match lived up to its top billing. So was the build-up to the grand fiesta as the Qatar Stars League Management had made all efforts towards making it a runaway success. This unique event gave the sponsors extra mileage and the huge attendance by fans was the icing on the cake.
Al Sadd and Al Arabi fought it out in the Qatar Derby in the previous round, with The Wolves winning by a 3-1 margin. Another derby in Week 8 saw Al Rayyan defeat Al Arabi 4-2.
El Arabi topped the scorer’s chart with 16 goals, followed by his captain Youssef Msakni (nine) and Al Rayyan’s Abderrazaq Hamdallah as well as Al Sailiya’s Wagner Ribeiro (both eight). El Arabi looks set to emulate his performance last season.
Other players who grabbed the attention were Nam (Al Duhail), Xavi Hernandez, Bounedjah, Jugurtha Hamroun, Hassan Al Haydous (all Al Sadd), Rodrigo Tabata, Sebastian Soria (both Al Rayyan), Temurkhuja Abdukholiqov (Al Sailiya), Yannick Sagbo (Umm Salal), Meshaal Abdullah, Yassine Chikhaoui (both Al Ahli), Luis Jimenez, Othman Al Yahri (both Al Gharafa), Madson (Al Khor), Khalfan Ibrahim, Mardik Mardikian (both Al Arabi), Rachid Tiberkanine (Al Kharaitiyat), Michael Babatunde, Ibrahim Jamal (both Qatar SC) and Kwame Karikari (Al Markhiya).
The Khalifa International Stadium, the first 2022 FIFA World Cup venue to be completed, hosted two QNB Stars League matches.
In all, 228 goals were scored and Week 8 witnessed the most (30).
Al Gharafa’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Al Rayyan provided the fitting finale to the sixth edition of QSL Cup, revived this year after a gap of three seasons.
The win not only enabled Al Gharafa to end their long title drought, but made them the first team to win the QSL Cup twice too.