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The 2023-2024 season Expo Stars League witnessed challenges and difficulties, and competition between the teams lasted till the final round.

It is certain that the teams will seek to build on their positives and address areas for improvement in order to be better in the new season (2024-2025).

In successive episodes, we review each team’s performance in the 2023-2024 Expo Stars League.

AL DUHAIL

For the first time in Al Duhail’s history since their debut in First Division league in Qatar in the 2010-2011 season, they finished league championship outside the top-four bracket this time as they ended up in the 2023-2024 Expo Stars League in sixth place.

Al Duhail, the eight-time league winners and reigning champions, faced a number of challenges this season and suffered many defeats (10) as a result of decline in performance throughout the tournament.

The Red Knights collected 28 points from eight victories and four draws and despite being tied with Umm Salal (seventh) on points, Al Duhail got the advantage of better goal difference (-3 as against Umm Salal’s -5). They both trailed fifth-placed Al Arabi by only one point. Al Duhail scored 42 goals and conceded 45.

Big ambitions

Despite the great ambitions at the start of season under Argentinian coach Hernan Crespo, who guided them to a treble last season – league, Qatar Cup 2023 and Ooredoo Cup – in addition to reaching the semifinals of AFC Champions League, the team did not achieve the desired start and faced many difficulties in the process at the domestic and continental levels.

Galtier takes over from Crespo

Al Duhail’s sedate start resulted in the departure of Crespo and the task was assigned to Frenchman Christophe Galtier in October, 2023, with the hope of better results and getting the team back on the right track.

Changes and signings at start of season

Al Duhail signed a number of deals at the start of season, including that of Isaac Lihadji and Ibrahima Diallo from English sides Sunderland and Southampton respectively in addition to South Korean Kim Moon-Hwan from Jeonbuk Hyundai and Ibrahima Bamba from Portuguese club Vitoria Guimaraes. They also signed Brazilian star Philippe Coutinho, the former Liverpool and Barcelona player, and retained Kenyan striker Michael Olunga.

Starting with two consecutive victories

The team started off with successive victories over Al Ahli (2-1) and Muaither (4-1), before being held by Al Arabi 3-3 in the third round, and it was clear that Al Duhail were not in their best technical condition.

First loss

Their first loss came against Al Gharafa in the fourth round as they lost 2-3, but bounced back with a 2-1 win over Al Markhiya in Week 5 and beat Al Shamal by the same score in the seventh round after their Week 6 match against Al Wakrah was postponed due to their AFC Champions League commitments. Later, Al Duhail lost 2-3 to Al Wakrah.

In the eighth round, Al Duhail succeeded in defeating Al Rayyan by a 3-2 margin, but were defeated by Al Sadd 3-1 in the ninth round.

In Week 10, Galtier’s men lost 0-1 to Umm Salal and that was followed by a 1-1 draw with Qatar SC in Week 11.

Al Duhail finished the first leg in fifth spot with 17 points.

Week 12 saw Al Duhail lose 3-5 to Al Ahli.

Equality Cup and signing Brazilian defender Verissimo

During the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qatar break, Al Duhail played in the Equality Cup at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium from February 1 to 13. The Red Knights lost their first match to Shanghai Shenhua of China 0-1 before losing to Russia’s Zenit by a 0-2 margin.

They also lost to Brazilian club Santos 3-4 on penalties after the regular time ended 2-2.

Al Duhail also played a friendly against Qatar SC and the game ended in a 3-3 draw.

In the transfer window, Al Duhail transferred Portuguese Ruben Semedo to Al Markhiya and included Brazilian defender Lucas Verissimo from Brazilian club Corinthians, where he was on loan from Portuguese side Benfica.

Return of league

The league resumed with Week 14 action, where Al Duhail played out a 2-2 draw with Al Arabi and then lost 1-4 to Al Gharafa in the 15th round followed by a goalless draw with Al Markhiya.

The team’s results and technical level continued to decline as they lost 1-2 to Al Wakrah in Week 17 before beating Al Shamal 3-1 in Week 18. They, however, lost 0-2 to Al Rayyan in Week 19 and won against Al Sadd by a 3-1 margin in Week 20 and Muaither by a 5-2 margin in their postponed match from Week 13.

Al Duhail suffered defeats in the last two rounds, against Umm Salal (0-2) and Qatar SC (2-4), to finally settle for the sixth position, their worst standing ever.

Olunga top scorer with 16 goals

Kenyan star Olunga continued his good performance despite a spate of negative results for the team and scored 16 goals to be their top scorer. Captain Almoez Ali was the second-best scorer for Al Duhail with seven goals.

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Published on: 16/05/2024

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