Al Duhail midfielder Ali Afif has urged his teammates to put the AFC Champions League loss behind them and focus on winning the Sheikh Jassim Cup against Al Sadd Saturday.
Qatar football’s season-opening contest between the two domestic giants has added an extra spice to the encounter, which kicks off at 7:15pm at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, after Sadd beat their perennial rivals to progress into the AFC Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday.
The two teams are expected to battle it out for the QNB Stars League this season, which begins this Wednesday. But before that, they would be keen to lay their hands on the Sheikh Jassim Cup.
Undoubtedly, Sadd will go into the contest at their home ground as clear favourites but Duhail can spring a surprise as they did in the Amir Cup final in May.
While Duhail will be hamstrung by the absence of key players – defender Mehdi Benatia and forward Almoez Ali, Sadd too will miss the services of Baghdad Bounedjah, Hamed Ismail and Tarek Salman, who are under suspension after being sent off in the Amir Cup final.
Sadd still look stronger on paper, with Ali Afif’s younger brother Akram in prolific form, while South Korea playmaker Nam Tae-hee, who swapped Duhail for Sadd over the summer, running the show in the midfield. The Qatar league champions also look well settled under new coach Xavi, who announced his retirement over the summer and is leading the Wolves now from the dugout.
Ali Afif asserted that Duhail will go into the match determined to win the title. “Al Duhail players always have the ambition to win matches and titles. So it is a very important match for us and we are seeking nothing less than a victory, because it will also boost our morale for the season ahead,” the 31-year-old said.
“The loss against Al Sadd in the AFC Champions League is not the end for us. It will not affect our desire to win the matches for the club. One loss does not make us a bad team. We learn from our mistakes. We have young players in squad, who are talented and ambitious and want to do well for the club this season,” the Qatar international added.
Rui Faria’s men made two major changes to their squad over the summer with Youssef El Arabi and Shoya Nakajima bidding adieu to the club, which has hampered their start to the season. Now it’s up to skipper Youssef Msakni, who returned after a short loan spell at KAS Eupen, to lead the charge along with impressive Edmilson Junior, who is sure to dominate the goal-scoring charts the season. Faria can also call upon Iraqi prodigy Mohanad Ali, who arrived from Al Shorta this summer.
Ali Afif hopes to play a key role in Saturday’s match but emphasised the role of all the 11 players against a strong Sadd side. “All the 11 players will have to work hard for the team. I hope we can play as a team and present a good level against Sadd. When we start the match, you will see that we have forgotten our loss in the AFC Champions League,” he said.
Meanwhile, Al Sadd midfielder Ahmed Sayyar believes that his side is fully prepared to get another victory over Al Duhail. Speaking to the media at the pre-match press conference, Ahmed said: “It will be a tough game for both sides. Our team is ready, mentally and physically, for this game, particularly after we qualified for the next stage of the AFC Champions League.”
He added: “The Sheikh Jassim Cup title could be a good start for the team at the beginning of the season, and we are ready for it. We’ve had a positive phase recently, especially during the pre-season. The victory in the Champions League fixture will be a real boost for us, as we look to put more wins on board.”
The Sheikh Jassim Cup, launched in 1977, over the years, has been played in the month of August and sets things in motion for an exciting season. The tournament is a one-off match between the winners of the QNB Star League (QSL) and Amir Cup.
Al Rayyan won the previous edition of the tournament after beating Al Duhail 6-4. Al Sadd have the most impeccable record in the tournament with 14 trophies.
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