CUP OF JOY

CUP OF JOY

AS ALWAYS, Abdulkarim Hassan started the celebrations.

The Al Sadd left back, who plays with a smile on his face and fire in the belly, launched the ball in to the crowd as soon as referee Khamis Al Kuwari blew the final whistle and ran to the sidelines, his arms spread wide, to join man-of-the-match Jugurtha Hamroun and coach Jesualdo Ferreira in a huddle.

Captain Xavi Hernandez, meanwhile, embraced defender Morteza Mohammad, who was next to him and then went to the coach, the two engaging in a warm hug.

From Baghdad Bounedjah, the scorer of their opening goal and the maker of second, to assistant coach Nuno Miguel, Sadd players and staff were rejoicing all around the pitch, some taking their time to thank the Almighty before joining the revelry.

Their supporters on the stands, in a predetermined move, displayed placards with No.66 printed in bold, denoting the number of titles they have won.

That it took almost two years for the most successful and glamorous club in the country to add one more title to their kitty only doubled the happiness while the triumph also brought a huge sense of relief.

It was Xavi’s first title since leaving Barcelona after leading them to the Champions League triumph in 2015. It was also Ferreira’s maiden trophy at Sadd since replacing Housseine Amouta in November, 2015.

From the match perspective too, the final whistle could have come as music to a lot of ears, especially to keeper Saad Al Sheeb and the defence which could have done better with Jaish’s equaliser and the forward line that was brilliant in one moment and wasteful the next.

Jaish, the most successful side in the competition, winning twice and featuring in all four finals since it was renamed the Qatar Cup in 2014, were looking to leave their imprint on the trophy one last time before they are merged with Lekhwiya at the end of season.

And when the match started, it was Jaish who made the early running, with their attackers Romarinho and Sardor Rashidov having half chances even before Sadd got a proper feel of the ball.

Sadd’s first opportunity went to Hamroun, but his powerful effort after a weak defensive clearance flew over the bar.

The game, which was also a match-up between two former Barcelona midfield maestros — Xavi and Seydou Keita — had a nice flow to it, with both titans fighting with real intent and pulling the strings for their teams. But when Sadd took the lead with a beautiful goal in the 21st minute, it ironically had more to do with Keita than Xavi, for it came soon after the Jaish midfielder was dispossessed in the midfield by Pedro.

Hassan Al Haidous picked up the loose ball and his long pass for Baghdad Bounedjah from the right touchline, just inside Jaish half, was perfectly weighed, but the Algerian striker more than matched it in beauty and execution with his finish.

Baghdad, who made sure he was onside as he surged ahead in the nick of time to meet the pass, controlled the ball with a deft touch before finding the mark with an emphatic finish.

Jaish drew level through Rashidov in the 38th and it happened as if in slow motion.

Until Rashidov ran down Yasir Abubakar’s diagonal through pass and slotted it beneath Saad, who dived in vain, neither the keeper nor defender Hamad Ismail seemed fully aware of the danger.

Jaish suddenly looked the more dangerous of the two and could easily have increased their lead had Romarinho not sent his effort wide.

Sadd regained their composure after the breather and Baghdad almost doubled his tally in the 48th when he rounded keeper  Khalifa Ababacar, only for Seydou Keita to make a fine last-ditch tackle.

Minutes later, Al Haidous had a chance to restore Sadd’s lead, but his header off a cross from Hamroun flew wide. Hamroun finally made it 2-1 in the 73rd when he controlled a Baghdad cross from the right and blasted it home.

Sadd continued to create chances and miss them as well. With the likes of Romarinho and Rashidov, both capable of conjuring up moments of sheer magic, spearheading Jaish attack, the Wolves were living dangerously.

Though Abderrazak Hamdallah, the Armymen’s lynchpin last season, came off the bench to bolster their attack, a goal eluded them. Even Rashidov’s last-ditch effort flew over and so did their hopes. 

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