By Asad Bisati
Images courtesy of the Qatar Stars League
The Qatar Stars League (QSL) is upon us – and it’s for sure going to be a fascinating season of enthralling football. All the clubs have made notable signings and have strengthened their squads prior to the start of the season.
The QSL clubs have been in action with friendlies across Europe this summer and have shown that they can beat the best in the European leagues. These matches have also given the teams and their coaching staff a chance to tinker with formations, and sign new player as they see fit.
Al Duhail SC will be the favourite this season, with Al Sadd and Al Rayyan right behind. Al Sadd, for all their star-studded line-up, haven’t produced the goods and the QSL title for them has seemed elusive. The story for them has been ‘So close, yet so far’ in the past few seasons, while Al Rayyan will hope to spring a surprise and conquer the league this year.
The 2017-2018 season also sees the entry of two new teams – Qatar SC and Al Markhiya. These newcomers will try to upset the order and give every team a run for their money. Here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the teams taking part in the QSL this season:
Umm Salal hasn’t made a real impact on the QSL these past few seasons, but the club has shown glimmers of what it could achieve, yet they haven’t lived up to the hype – with every season repeating the same story.
The team hasn’t lifted any silverware since the triumph in 2008 when they won the Emir Cup. The club has failed to make any inroads in the Emir Cup or the QSL since then.
The Barzan's Falcons have made a host of signings this season, with goalkeeper Eisa Shaaban, left-back Ismail Dahqani, Ali Mohammed, Mahmoud Al Mawas, and Moroccan defender Jalal Daoudi. They've also added five local players -- Maher Yousef from Al Wakrah, Mustafa Abdi from Al Gharafa, Basil Zaidan from Muaither, Khalid Zakiba from Al Rayyan, and Rami Fayes from El Jaish.
Umm Salal will have a hard time with the other teams constantly pushing them, and we just can’t see them making it into the top four…
Al Ahli came in a disappointing 10th in 2016, and fans had few fingernails left come the end of the season. Al Ahli will be hoping on a change in fortune for 2017-2018.
They've been busy in the transfer market -- not only shopping for players, but a new manager as well. The Brigadiers confirmed the signing of former Osasuna coach Joaquin Caparros who has been at various Spanish sides including Sevilla, Villareal, and Levante.
Al Ahli are putting a lot of faith in the Spanish coach in the hopes that he can turn the club around. Al Ahli has signed Mozambican international defender Simao Mate Junior, and Qatari attacker Majid Mohamed. The former Qatari international has 77 international caps and over a decade of experience in the QSL. The Brigadiers have also brought onboard Spanish striker Francisco Sandaza. The management is banking on these changes to shake up the club's previous dismal performance. Let's see how they look on the pitch, but we don't see Al Ahli finishing anywhere near the top this season.
Al Arabi didn't fare well last season, finishing in 9th place just above Al Ahli -- the only consolation the Al Arabi fans could get. This season sees Kais Yaakoubi take command of the club in an effort to formulate the same success that the club was used to in its prime.
The 'Dream Team' has made some good signings in the busy transfer market with the inclusion of several players -- namely Syrian striker Mardik Marikian, and Qatari international Khalfan Ibrahim from Al Sadd. The club is showing a lot of faith in local talent and was quick to sign three young, talented players with rivals Hesham Kamal and Jasser Yahya joining goalkeeper Muhannad Naim. Al Arabi might just have an improved season and live up to its nickname of 'The Dream Team'.
The Thunders fared well last season compared to the other teams in the same bracket of class and player talent. This season, they would want to improve on their 2016 7th place finish.
Coah Al-Ajlani stays with the club and hopes to bring stability -- making some calculated signings and going for quality over quantity. He doesn't want to upset his team's balance. With their three main targets -- Diba, Tiberkanine, and Tursurnov signing long-term deals with the club, Al Kharaitiyat will have a steady, but possibly uneventful season.
The new boys will try to upset the big boys and mark their presence in the QSL. A power-packed performance saw them take the leap to the top flight of Qatari football.
The Kings played some exciting football last season and made the leap to the QSL. Their signings have been numerous to say the least, with the squad keeping busy in the transfer market, and showing intent on improving their line-up in the desire to stay in the top-flight next season.
They’ve alsosigned a new head coach in Gabriel Calderon to help them adapt to the pace of the top division. The Kings have brought in Brazilian midfielder Bruno Gallo, along with Al Arabi defender Ali Jassimi, and former Al Ahli keeper Satea Abdelnasse.
They were also quick to scoop striker Fahad Khalfan, keeper Jassem Adel, and Rajab Hamza. They didn’t stop there, also scoring 19 year-old Qatari forward Ahmed Abdulqader Al Meghessib to bring in speed and youthfulness to the club. Qatar SC might just pull it off and stay afloat this season.
The Peregrines haven’t been as active as most other clubs in the league, but with the signing of former Algerian international midfielder Nadir Belhadj, the fans are hoping something good may just happen. Al Sailiya had a decent 2016 season which saw them win 8 and draw 7 games.
The defensive duo of Rami Fayez and Dragos Grigore have to pull out the best in them and plug the holes in the defence. Al Sailiya will continue to play their style of football and will be happy to finish mid table.
The Knights had a forgettable 2016 season. Finishing 11th with 13 defeats, they were quick to replace departing coach Jean Fernandez by announcing the signing of his compatriot Laurent Banide – who they hope will bring about a change in fortune.
Al-Khor has made some smart moves in the transfer market, signing some exciting players like Brazilian striker David Da Silva. The 27 year-old could be the answer to Al-Khor’s lack of goals.
Madison was also retained by the management, while Brazilian defender Luciano Castan, who signed from Stade Brestois 29, and Iranian Soroosh Rafiei round out the international player signings for the Knights. They’ll have a tough season no doubt…and while fans will hold on to their seats, a drop down to the Qatar Gas League is a real possibility.
Yusef Adams’ team will hope that their stay in the QSL isn’t short-lived, and is as far away from any conspiracies as possible. Though they’ll try to consolidate and stay up in the QSL, the newcomers will face stiff challenges – but with some smart and calculated signings Al-Markhiya might just be able to stay in the top division.
Case in point – they’ve been buying players who have experience in the top-flight. The trio of Mohammed Salah Al-Nili from Al Rayyan, Saleh Al Yazidi from Al Sadd, and Ahmed Al Askar from Al Sailiya will bring in the experience required that Al-Makhiya are currently lacking. So look out – they may just be a one-season wonder.
The Lions sure did live up to to expectations last season, finishing a respectable third in the QSL. This year they’ll hope to replicate the same form and adventurous brand of football that saw them defeating the best in 2016.
The Lions have acquired the services of Ahmed Al Saadi, the young Qatari winger who is sure to inject some serious pace down the flanks. Al Saadi is a part of the National U23 team and is a graduate of the Aspire Academy program. He’s a great investment for the Lions, and is sure be a promising prospect for years to come.
Al Rayyan has also extended contracts for three of their star players – Mussa Haroon, Mohammed Alaaeldin, and Abdulhameed Enad. The Lions will try to push for the top spot this season; it’ll be a tough fight, but they might just surprise everyone.
The Cheetahs had a good season last time out. Their 5th place finish was well-deserved, but the fans wanted more, as the team just missed out on leap-frogging into the top four of the QSL.
The Cheetahs have been strengthening their squad throughout the summer break, making some exciting signings and bringing some young talent into their ranks.
They were quick to sign young attackers Abdulmajeed Enad and Ahmed Alaaeldin, while Yusef Muftah and central midfielder Khalid Abdulraouf were also picked up. The inclusion of Diogo Amado from Portugal’s Estoril Praia, and defender Rubert Quijada, will bring maturity and experience to the squad. The Cheetahs also snatched up Qatari player Yusef Muftah and will be sure to push the team all the way. Al-Gharafa have a great chance of making it into the top four.
Lekhwiya are the defending champions of the QSL – but don’t be surprised if you don’t see their name on the roster this season. In April 2017, it was announced that Lekhwiya would take over El Jaish SC and merge following the 2016-2017 QSL season. The newly re-branded team will now be known as Al-Duhail Sports Club, and has the biggest budget out of all the teams in Qatar.
Al-Duhail is slated to be a powerhouse in the QSL. The Red Knights are the top dogs when it comes to the Stars League – and no wonder as the former Lekhwiya won triple the amount of titles from its nearest competitor during its time playing in the top-flight division. Al-Duhail’s takeover of El Jaish makes it a team that will be hard to beat, and they’re the hot favourites this season with star players like Mohamed Muntari, Abdulrahman Mohammed A.A. Hussain, Ahmed Yasser, Youssef Msakni, Nam Tae-Hee, Luiz Martin Ceara, and Chico Flores to name a few.
The Emir Cup victory for Al Sadd was some consolation after finishing 2ndin the QSL last season. Starting out, Al Sadd couldn’t have been better, with head coach Jesualdo Ferreira crowned the Coach of the Year at the QFA Awards.
For 2017-2018, they’ll be hoping to win the title this season round. The club hasn’t lived up to to the hype it’s generated over the years – but have been doing some smart business ahead of the season opener.
The Wolves signed Qatar international midfielder Boualem Khoukhi on a two-year contract alongside Qatar international keeper Saud Al Hajiri. Bagdad Bounjah has also signed a new long-term deal with the club and has been the leading scorer for the Wolves. Jugurtha Hamroun was also signed from Romania’s Steaua Bucharest, activating the buy option for the player that played last season on loan.
Al Sadd looks like fine-drilled machine with mega-stars Jesualdo and Xavi pulling the strings. They may have a challenge fighting off competition for the top spot, but if Xavi can have his way then the Wolves could well be the 2017-2018 champions.
Are you pumped for the start of the 2017-2018 season of the Qatar Stars League? Drop us a line in the comments below and let us know your predictions! Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!
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