BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: Former Qatar Stars League (QSL) champions Al Sadd will rely on Brazilian striker Rodrigo Tabata’s penchant for goals and team-mate Khalfan Ibrahim’s threat inside a rival team’s box for wins in the new season, coach Hussain Amute said.
Al Sadd, who were dethroned as QSL champions by Lekhwiya in March this year, begin the new season minus their influential captain Raul Gonzalez and the pressure of a do-or-die AFC Champions League clash against Saudi side Al Hilal next week.
“We have very good strikers in Tabata, Khalfan Ibrahim and Hassan Al Haydos,” Amute said in an interview before his team’s loss against Al Hilal on Tuesday in Riyadh. “These players played well (last season) and can be a real threat,” he added.
“I hope they can play well as a team when we have important games,” Amute said.
Amute, who saw Al Sadd emerge as the Sheikh Jassim Cup champions with last week’s hard-fought win over Lekhwiya, the QSL defending champions, said he is expecting a dogfight for the title in the new season that kicks off today.
“Clearly there are some good sides. There are no easy games in QSL. El Jaish are there and so is Lekhwiya. They played very good last season. They have a new coach (Michael Laudrup). They have quality players in their team,” Amute added in the interview.
Amute admitted that his side was clearly paying more attention to their AFC Champions League quarter-finals. He, in fact, rued that his players did not have adequate match-practice in the build-up to the games against Al Hilal who drew first blood with their win on Tuesday.
Despite paying greater attention to their AFC Champions League clash against Al Hilal for now, Al Sadd coach Amute won’t be a worried man in the weeks agead since he has an impressive line-up that also includes the reliable Algerian Nadir Belhadj and Korean import Lee Jung-Soo.
Add to this list is Brazilian striker Muriqi who impressed with two slick goals in last week’s Sheikh Jassim Cup clash against Lekhwiya. The 28-year-old helped Guanghzou Evergrande to the AFC Champions League title last year.
After winning the QSL title in the 2012-13 season in the presence of Raul - who has since quit football - Al Sadd were far from impressive in the title race last season, finishing in third spot behind Lekhwiya and El Jaish.
Winning the Emir Cup in May added a bit of sheen to Al Sadd’s campaign in the 2013-14 season but losing the QSL title will force a rethink on team tactics in the new season.
For Amute, the 2014-15 season would be the toughest in the last few years as ‘the Wolves’ will miss key players away on national duty in the next five months.
Qatar national team has two key events - the Gulf Cup in November and the Asian Cup in January 2015 - which means Amute would be forced to rely on his bench strength to back his vital foreign imports.
“The players were in good shape after a successful summer training camp,” Amute said when asked about his team’s performance at the end of the Sheikh Jassim Cup game against Lekhwiya. “The positives of the match were that Muriqi was able to fit in with the team quickly and was able to make us favourites to win the match.
“Winning the Cup will give the players a boost,” he added.
Al Sadd take on Al Shahaniya in their first game of the new season but the fixture is yet to be confirmed in light of Al Sadd’s AFC Champions League clash against Al Hilal in Doha on August 26.
In other clashes, Al Ahli take on Al Sailiyah while Al Arabi host Al Khor today. Tomorrow Al Shamal host Al Kharaitiyat, defending champions Lekhwiya host Qatar SC and El Jaish take on Al Wakrah.