DOHA: After nearly four months out, Qatar’s elite club football competition - Qatar Stars League (QSL) will begin again, but for the first time ever 14 teams will battle for the title this season.
QSL debutants Muithather Sports Club, who finished as runners-up to Al Ahli in the Second Division, both join the 12 clubs who participated in QSL last season.
All eyes will be on QSL holders Al Sadd, the 13-time champions who face a mouth-watering match against rivals Al Rayyan in the season opener today.
The two teams faced each other four times last season, with Al Rayyan triumphing in the Sheikh Jassim Cup, Emir Cup and in the return QSL fixture earlier this year.
Al Sadd coach Hussein Amute admits his side will be under pressure this season. He said: “There’s a lot of pressure on me and the team this season, perhaps more than last year. We were quite successful last time and to win the league was an incredible feeling.”
He added: “Now we’re the team people will be looking to beat. They’ll want to take our title. Our fans will hope we can keep it. This is football though. This is the challenge.”
Today’s opponents Al Rayyan, have enjoyed recent success having retained the Sheikh Jassim Cup title last week.
Much will depend on attacking midfielder Rodrigo Tabata and striker Nilmar if Diego Aguirre’s side wants to be champions in 2014.
Among the teams who will be keen to take the title away from Al Sadd are former champions Lekhwiya, who finished runners-up to Amute’s team last season.
After a poor start in the league last season, Lekhwiya sacked coach Djamel Belmadi in October, and replaced him with Belgium’s Eric Gerets. The move proved to be instrumental but Gerets fell agonisingly short towards the end of the season of claiming their third successive title.
Nevertheless, Gerets insists that his side is eager to reclaim the title. He told The Peninsula yesterday: “Our target is to be champions.” Lekhwiya open their campaign against Al Sailiyah today.
Besides Lekhwiya, another former QSL champion Al Gharafa have been busy in pre-season, by managing to rope in former Brazilian legend and Japan bossZico as coach.
The Brazilian is one of six new coaches who will be in the dug-out this season, and can count on former Lyon and Porto striker Lisandro Lopez who joined the seven-time champions for a reported fee of 7.2m euros in the summer.
The Argentine striker has the pedigree to make an impact on QSL this season, starting with his season’s opener against Al Ahli.
Eljaish will also be aiming to get off to a winning start when Razvan Lucescu’s side visit Al Arabi tomorrow.
Lucescu made some wise transfers bringing in local players Murad Negi, Yousef Muftah and former Al Sadd player Wesam Rizik to add steel to their squad.
With the Qatari club losing last season’s top scorer Adriano, Lucescu’s side had bought Ecuador striker Christian Benitez.
But the former Birmingham City striker died in Doha from a heart attack in July, which sent shockwaves across the world.
However, Lucescu can count on Wagner Ribeiro who was deployed as the second striker last season as well as Anderson Martins.
The 26-year-old proved to be an instrumental part of Eljaish’s defence which conceded only 23 goals in 22 matches last season.
In other matches this weekend, Umm Salal, coached by former Qatar Olympic, Lyon and Marseille coach Allain Perrin face newcomers Muather today.
Al Khor are at home to Qatar Sports Club today. Al Kharaiyitat face Al Wakra tomorrow.