There is no bigger occasion than the Amir Cup football final in Qatar’s sporting calendar. But what makes the marquee clash of the tournament’s 47th edition somewhat unique is the involvement of various sub plots, each seemingly bigger than the other, depending on one’s point of view.
The final will see one of the best midfielders to have graced the football field, former Barcelona and Spain great Xavi Hernandez, bid adieu to the game as the Al Sadd captain looks for one final hurrah as a player in Qatar. Al Sadd manager Jesualdo Ferreira, too, has announced he will leave Wolves after three years in charge, while Rui Faria is gunning for his first trophy as Al Duhail coach.
For most in Qatar, though, the unveiling of the Al Wakrah stadium, the second venue to be completed for the 2022 World Cup and first to be built from scratch, will come first in their scheme of things.
The final will kick off at 10:30pm but before that a 40,000 capacity crowd will witness an opening ceremony befitting the occasion, which is scheduled for 9:15pm.
The match itself should be electrifying. Al Sadd ended Al Duhail’s two-year dominance when they won the QNB Stars League title this season. It was Sadd’s first under Ferreira’s charge as they have played like a well-oiled machine in the season, making them favourites for the Amir Cup title.
Having said that, defending champions Duhail will be seeking to end the season with a trophy of their own.While they finished seven points behind Al Sadd in the league, they also lost to Al Rayyan on penalties in the season-opening Sheikh Jassim Cup last August.
The two times Al Sadd and Al Duhail have come face-to-face in the league this season, Ferreira’s men won the first leg 3-1 while in the second Duhail were heartbroken when an own goal by substitute Murad Naji at the stroke of final whistle helped Sadd draw the encounter 2-2.
While the two are head and shoulders above rest of the teams in Qatar, there is not much to separate between them when they take on each other, which makes today’s contest an intriguing one. Ferreira said there are no clear favourites in today’s final. “Al Duhail are the defending champions and it is going to be a tough and intense game between the two sides,” the 72-year-old said.
“The players are the most important part of the game. They are the ones who will be champions. They need to work as hard as possible to win the title. There is no clear favourite in this game, which is a knockout game with just 90 minutes, and not a number of matches. It will be a different game and an exciting final,” he added.
The Portuguese coach hoped his players would give him and Xavi a triumphant farewell. “I’m very happy that we are taking part in the final. I hope we would do the same what we did before last year (Sadd beat Al Rayyan to win the title in 2017). We are here to win the title.
“We know the importance of this trophy in this country and we know how much importance the media, the citizens and residents give to this tournament. This final will be an illustrious place in the careers of the coaching staff, the officials and medical staff as well. It will be an honour for us if we win the trophy,” he said.
For Faria, who replaced Nabil Maaloul in January, this will be the biggest match of his career. The 43-year-old spent much of his career as assistant to Jose Mourinho, proving a valuable member to his fellow Portuguese’s coaching staff at Europe’s biggest clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. But having decided to go solo last year, it will be a test of Faria’s credentials in a high-pressure match. Despite a slow start, Faria has been able to rally his team. While they could only finish second in the league, Duhail have entered the AFC Champions League knockout stage and cruised past Al Sailiya in the Amir Cup semi-finals.
“We know the importance of the match. Al Sadd are an organised team with an experienced coach. But we are ready. We have paid a lot of attention to the details and we have trained well for the match and we hope it will end in a good way,” Faria said yesterday.
“It will be an opportunity for me to win my first title which hopefully would be the first of many. It will mean a lot to win at a World Cup stadium. We have improved a lot recently and the team is getting stronger. We have faced strong teams and are ready to take on Sadd, who are a very good team,” he said.
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