AL GHARAFA, nicknamed the Cheetahs, observed a minute’s silence in memory of their former coach Caio Junior before their big match against Al Rayyan. And their performance and come-from-behind 3-2 win over the champions was equally befitting a tribute to the Brazilian, who lost his life in the plane crash along with many of his Chapecoense wards last week.
Soft-spoken Caio was the last coach to win the league title with Gharafa, in the 2009-10 season. Since then, they have mostly struggled to keep their reputation intact. Now, a four-match winning streak has taken them to the top four for the first time this season in arguably one of the best starts in many years.
Slovakian striker Vladimir Weiss, who was a key player in Michael Laudrup’s scheme of things during Lekhwiya’s successful campaign in the season before last, turned his tormentor this time by netting a brace, including the winner in the 89th minute.
Weiss had struck in the 21st minute to cancel out Garcia’s 18th-minute goal. And as Rayyan wasted chances one after the other, especially in the second half, Moayad Hassan, who came on as a substitute after the hour mark, made them pay by scoring off a counter-attack. Garcia drew level two minutes later, but they could not stop Weiss from scoring.
Pedro Caixinha’s men, who were 13th in the table after the second week, following defeats — 2-4 against Al Ahli and 4-5 to Lekhwiya — have steadily climbed up the ladder.
Caixinha congratulated his players.
“I think we dealt with the game in the right way and achieved a deserving victory,” said Caixinha.
“We’ll continue to work hard in order to reach our desired level. I don’t want to think about other teams in the competition. We’ve to focus only on ourselves.
“It’s very good that we achieved four wins on the trot. Considering the progress we’ve made, I think we’re capable of maintaining the consistency,” said the Portuguese.
Rayyan coach Michael Laudrup was not too worried about the reversal.
“It’s unfortunate that we returned empty-handed. We’re out of top four, but it doesn’t worry me too much. We put up a strong performance though we couldn’t capitalise on our chances,” said Laudrup.
El Jaish continued to stay four points clear at the top after the ninth round. The Soldiers survived a scare against strugglers Al Ahli before winning 1-0, thanks to an 86th-minute goal by Brazilian defender Lucas Mendes.
Moroccan striker Youssef El Arabi netted a brace as Lekhwiya blanked Al Sailiya 3-0 and moved up to second place on goal difference above Al Sadd, who prevailed over Al Khor 1-0.
Umm Salal returned to winning path by putting it past Muaither 2-0. Al Arabi and Al Wakrah played out a 2-2 draw while Al Shahaniya and Al Kharaitiyat also shared the point 1-1.