QNB Stars League 2017-18 key moments
The 2017-18 season witnessed a slimmer and sleeker QNB Stars League with 12 teams instead of 14 and 22 rounds of action as against 26 in the previous year.
Holders Lekhwiya and El Jaish got merged into Al Duhail, while Qatar SC and Al Markhiya got promoted.
The tournament was rebranded and a new logo was launched at a Press conference, attended by Qatar Stars League Management (QSLM) CEO Hani Taleb Ballan, Acting Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Hassan Rabiah Al Kuwari, Competitions Department Director Ahmed Al Adsani, title sponsor Qatar National Bank’s (QNB) Assistant General Manager of Public Relations Salem Al Nuaimi and Al Kass channel General Manager Essa Al Hitmi, among others.
QNB became the title sponsor for six seasons after an agreement was signed between Qatar Football Association President and QSLM Chairman Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani and QNB Group CEO Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari.
The QNB Stars League kicked off on 15th September and Al Duhail were in pole position right from the start. The Red Knights won the title with 60 points and an unbeaten record (they were the only team not to have been beaten this season), while the second position changed hands between Al Sadd, captained by Barcelona and Spain great Xavi Hernandez, and Al Rayyan, but the former managed to finish as runners-up with 49 points, followed by Al Rayyan (43).
Al Duhail took a major step closer to the title with a thrilling 4-3 win over strong contenders Al Sadd in Week 19. Al Duhail thus asserted their supremacy over The Wolves as they had won 4-2 in the first phase.
Al Duhail thus achieved their sixth Qatar League title and first after they were formed by merging Lekhwiya with El Jaish. Four of them (2010-11, 2011-12, 2016-17 and 2017-18) came when Algerian Djamel Belmadi was at the helm. They had also triumphed under Eric Gerets (2013-14) and current Al Rayyan coach Michael Laudrup (2014-15).
Al Duhail had more to cheer as their Moroccan striker Youssef El Arabi bagged the coveted top-scorer award with 26 goals, just one ahead of his captain and Tunisian attacking midfielder Youssef Msakni.
El Arabi was the top scorer last season as well with 24 goals, one more than Al Sadd’s Baghdad Bounedjah.
This time, Al Rayyan’s Abderrazaq Hamdallah (18 goals) came third, followed by Bounedjah (16) and Al Rayyan’s Rodrigo Tabata (15).
The top three positions were decided ahead of the last two rounds, but the battle for the fourth position, between Al Gharafa and Umm Salal, went right down to the wire.
Going into the final day on 8th April when four games kicked off simultaneously, Umm Salal needed to beat Al Markhiya and hope Al Gharafa drop points against Qatar SC as they both were on 32 points, with The Cheetahs ahead on goal difference (+6 against -1).
However, when it mattered the most, Al Gharafa came through with flying colours, while The Orange Fortress fumbled and the former finished on 35 points, two points separating them.
In fact, Al Gharafa were widely expected to end up fourth, going by form and circumstances. They actually reaped rewards for making an overhaul in the January transfer window, the most by any side.
Turk Bulent Uygun took over from Frenchman Jean Fernandez, who guided them to the QSL Cup triumph, before the start of second phase.
Al Gharafa also bolstered their ranks by recruiting Dutch attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder, a FIFA World Cup runner-up with the Netherlands and UEFA Champions League winner with Inter Milan, Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi and Assim Madibo.
Al Sailiya finished sixth with 28 points, Al Arabi seventh (24 points, better goal difference), Al Khor eighth (24 points), Al Ahli ninth (22 points, better goal difference), Qatar SC 10th (22 points) and Al Kharaitiyat 11th (16 points).
Al Markhiya got relegated with 13 points, while 11th-placed Al Kharaitiyat earned play-off right with Second Division runners-up Al Wakrah.
Al Sadd registered the biggest-margin victory of the season when they beat Al Kharaitiyat 9-1 in the final round. Al Duhail’s 8-2 win over Al Kharaitiyat in Week 8 was next.
Honours were even in the high-profile Qatar Clasico between Al Sadd and Al Rayyan. While The Wolves lost 1-2 in the first phase, they won 2-0 in the second.
The QSLM’s efforts towards making the Qatar Clasico a runaway success, right from the build-up of the grand fiesta till the very match, bore fruits.
The Khalifa International Stadium, the first 2022 FIFA World Cup venue to be completed, hosted two QNB Stars League matches in the first phase.
Al Ahli's Meshaal Mubarak played his last league match against Al Rayyan in Week 22. He represented four clubs in all.