Al Markhiya came from three goals down to play out a 3-3 tantalizing draw with Al Gharafa in the first round in Group B of 2023-2024 season Ooredoo Cup at the Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Stadium on Sunday.
The high-intensity match played out to be a game of two halves, with Al Gharafa claiming superiority in the first while Al Markhiya were the better of the two in the latter.
Al Gharafa’s goals came off the boots of Ahmed Al Janhi (eighth minute) and Yohan Boli (11th and 45+3 minutes), while Yusupha Njie (52nd minute penalty and 68th minute) and Talal Ali (65th minute) scored for Al Markhiya.
Al Markiya, who had suffered a 0-2 defeat at the hands of Al Gharafa in Round 2 of the Expo Stars League, had the first real chance of the game in the third minute when Driss Fettouhi stung the gloves of goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar Ndiaye with a stunning shot from 30 yards. But the gangling Al Gharafa shotstopper was up to the task as he parried the ball for a corner kick.
Al Janhi opened the scoring for Al Gharafa five minutes later following a defensive error from Al Markhiya, who allowed the ball to fall into the path of Farid Boulaya inside the 18-yard box. The Algerian player located Al Janhi, who wasted no time in driving a low shot to the right-hand corner of goalkeeper Luai Sharif’s net.
Boli made it two for Al Gharafa in the 11th minute after Al Markhiya captain Ali’s wayward back pass to goalkeeper Sharif Mohammad was intercepted by the Ivorian international, who then dribbled past the onrushing goalkeeper before calmly slotting home.
Al Gharafa had a penalty call denied in the 29th minute when Abdel Mitwali appeared to have brought down Al Janhi in the 18-yard box, but the referee ruled otherwise despite protests from the men in yellow shirts.
Al Markhiya had a chance to reduce the deficit in the 42nd minute after Joao Teixeira was brought down just at the edge of the 18-yard box, but the subsequent free-kick by Fettouhi went way off the mark.
Boli hit his brace of the night just before halftime following a well-timed pass from Al Janhi, who outpaced all of Al Markhiya’s defence after collecting a lob from the centre line, to make it three for The Cheetahs.
On the resumption of second half, Al Markhiya seemed to have gotten their act together as they played with more purpose and intensity.
Their efforts were rewarded in the 48th minute after Diogo Rochinha was brought down by Seydou Sano in the penalty area.
After a lengthy VAR review, the spot kick was eventually awarded, with Njie successfully converting it in the 51st minute to reduce the deficit for coach Anthony Hudson men.
Ali, who had been in outstanding form for much of the second half, put his team back in the game in the 64th minute after his right-footed shot from 20 yards caught goalkeeper Ndiaye napping, and the goalkeeper could not but watch helplessly as the ball rolled into his left-hand corner.
Three minutes later, Yusupha provided the equalizer to the consternation of Al Gharafa coach and bench, and the game became a ding-dong affair from thereon with few chances on both sides with Al Markhiya clearly breathing a sigh of relief as the referee brought the exciting match to a close.