BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: Two late strikes by Brazilian substitute Luiz Guilherme Muriqi powered Al Sadd to Sheikh Jassim Cup glory as the ‘Wolves’ beat Lekhwiya 3-2 in a tense clash at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium here yesterday.
Al Sadd — who took the lead through a stunner by striker Rodrigo Tabata in the ninth minute — owed thanks to their new import Muriqi who fired a brace (in the 79th and 85th minutes respectively) to give the Doha giants a trophy on day one of the new season.
For Lekhwiya it was a case of so near yet so far, as the Qatar Stars League (QSL) champions rallied for the lead through Yussef Msakni in the 72nd minute.
Msakni had earlier produced the equaliser for Michael Laudrup’s team in the 12th minute to suggest a dogfight.
However, former Asian champions Al Sadd fought back in style to seal their 13th triumph in the event that was first played in the 1977-78 season.
Played in sauna-like conditions at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium, both teams struggled for ball possession in the early part of the game last evening.
However, Tabata — who switched camp from Al Rayyan last January — changed the complexion of the game with a star act of a direct free kick.
In the ninth minute, the Brazilian stunned Lekhwiya goalkeeper Amine Claude Lecomte with a 40-yard curler that crashed into the net.
Al Sadd fans had barely settled down with their raucous celebration when Lekhwiya found the equaliser in the 12th minute off a controversial penalty.
Referee Yaqoob Abdul Baki quickly pointed to the penalty spot when Al Sadd’s Al Mahdi Ali brought down Msakni with a feeble push.
Quick to take the spot kick, Slovakian midfielder Vladmir Weiss went to the right of Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad Abdulla to inject energy into the tense clash.
In the 26th minute — following an unusual water break at the 20-minute mark — Tabata was provided with a lovely deft ball inside the Lekhwiya box by Talal Al Bloushi but the Al Sadd hero failed to complete what would have been an easy goal a few yards from the goal line.
With five minutes to go before the first-half whistle, Msakni chipped one towards the goal from the edge of the Al Sadd box but the ball narrowly slipped above the crossbar.
Barely 10 minutes into the second half, Laudrup decided to bench an out-of-sorts Sebastian Soria who struggled with his runs and pace.
In the 66th minute, Al Sadd wasted a golden opportunity to score when Tabata hoodwinked his marker and the Lekhwiya goalkeeper but his shot from close range went past the goalpost.
Six minutes later, Msakni made it 2-1 for Lekhwiya by slotting the ball home after a cross from Ali Shihab who had replaced Soria earlier on.
Poor marking by Korean defender Jung Soo Lee allowed Msakni to time his shot past Al Sadd goalkeeper Abdulla with ease.
In the 79th minute, Al Sadd produced their equaliser through Muriqi’s penalty. Lekhwiya goalkeeper Claude Lecomte brought down Hassan Al Haydos with a needless tackle, a move that resulted in a penalty. Muriqi went to the left of Claude Lecomte for Al Sadd’s equaliser.
Five minutes from time, Muriqi converted with a left-footed flick after Lekhwiya goalkeeper Lecomte fumbled on a corner kick taken by Nadir Belhadj.
Qatar Football Association (QFA) President Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani gave away the Sheikh Jassim Cup trophy to Al Sadd skipper Talal Ali Al Bloushi.
CEO of QSLM Hani Balan and Khalid Al Kuwari, COO of QFA, were also present.