(MENAFN- The Peninsula)
By Fawad Hussain I The Peninsula
Doha: Reigning champions Al Sadd and title contenders Al Rayyan will square off in the first Qatar Clasico of the new season, with the eagerly-awaited match – set to be played at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium today – deemed crucial for both the top sides in their QNB Stars League (QSL) campaigns.
Xavi Hernandez-coached Al Sadd won both their opening matches but Al Rayyan – under Frenchman Laurent Blanc – didn't have a start they wanted, sharing points with Umm Salal and Al Wakrah in the first two rounds.
But when it comes to Qatar Clasico, it takes the best out of players from both the QSL giants, and Xavi is aware of the challenge his ranks face against The Lions.
“It's a Qatar Clasico where both teams have equal chances,” Xavi said at a pre-match press conference yesterday.
“Al Rayyan are a strong side under a great coach. It is going to be a tough challenge,” said the Barcelona legend, whose side will miss four key players including Santi Cazorla, Saad Al Dossari, Abdelkarim Hassan and Pedro Miguel due to injuries.
“We will miss many players but the target is to win three points by giving our best,” said Xavi.
Blanc, meanwhile, said his team has a hunger to beat Al Sadd, a task in which they failed the previous season.
“We work every day in the training and we have had good preparations for this match. The players know Al Sadd's capabilities and we have great motivation to do well against them,” the French coach said yesterday.
“We are very interested to win this match as we know that it will be a good preparation for the Amir Cup final,” Blanc said while referring to the October 22 Amir Cup final to be played at the brand new Al Thumama Stadium – a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 venue.
However, the Frenchman stressed his side needs to bring major improvement from their first two games.
Al Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc
“Al Rayyan did not play well in the first two matches. We did not give hundred per cent, but we have to have the hunger to win. The team must give everything it has in the Al Sadd match in order to win,” said Blanc.
Al Duhail, Al Gharafa ready to fight for points
Earlier today at the Khalifa International Stadium, table-toppers Al Duhail and Al Gharafa will lock horns, hoping to continue their winning run.
Al Duhail lead Al Sadd on basis of a better goal difference after winning their first two matches while Al Gharafa, who also won both their matches, are third in the standings.
Al Duhail coach Luis Castro said:“The players are confident of getting their third win in a row. We do not look at the results of other teams. We respect our opponents and prepare for matches looking at their strengths and weaknesses.”
Meanwhile, Al Gharafa coach Andrea Stramaccioni termed the match a test for his side.
“We need such matches to develop and gain more maturity to know the margin of progress in player development,” he said.
“Al Gharafa are an old club with many achievements. I know this team will play with its head held high and with a positive thinking. This type of match is what I want to use to evaluate my team, regardless of the outcome,” he added.
Today's third match will pit Al Khor and Al Wakrah at the Al Khor Stadium.
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