9/28/2016 8:21:04 AM

Escape to victory

Escape to victory

THEY were described as the “team of the moment”, but Lekhwiya barely managed to escape with all three points in their first real test in pursuit of regaining the Qatar Stars League title.

One of the title favourites, Lekhwiya had begun the season with the Sheikh Jassim Cup triumph and followed it up with a 4-0 rout of promoted Muaither in their league opener. However, they looked far from best while sneaking to a 5-4 victory over Al Gharafa.

Skilful midfielder Nam Tae-Hee brilliantly bent home a free-kick at the far post in the 89th minute, his third goal of the match, to give the four-time league champions a thrilling victory. Nam’s winner came two minutes after fellow South Korean Han Kook-Young thought he had secured a point for Gharafa with a nicely-placed effort to tie the score at 4-4.

Goals from Ali Afif and Nam gave Lekhwiya a 2-0 lead by the 16th minute, but Vladimir Weiss pulled one back by converting from the spot in the 22nd.

Mustafa Abdi brought down Afif inside the area and Youssef El Arabi scored the resultant penalty to make it 3-1 in the 41st. Abdi made amends and reignited Gharafa’s hopes when he headed home from a corner two minutes later.

Nam found the back of the net from a free-kick soon after resumption to make it 4-2 while substitute Johnson Kendrick and Han struck in quick succession to draw parity by the 86th. And then came Nam’s winner.

“We put ourselves in trouble by allowing Gharafa to come back into the game. We deserved full points, but definitely it’s not the way we want to play,” said Lekhwiya coach Djamel Belmadi, who was often furious on the touchline but relaxed at the Press conference.

The second straight victory took the Cops to the top of the points table, but their game lacked the usual fluidity up front. They looked far from compact while defending, and left a lot of spaces for rivals, especially Weiss, to run into. It seemed Belmadi was already missing hardworking midfielder Ahmed Maksoud, who moved to Al Arabi on a season-long loan.

Gharafa coach Pedro Caixinha had described Lekhwiya as the “team of the moment”, and was disappointed that they could not take any point from the game.

“I always prefer to start building our attack from the back, but it hasn’t been happening. I always like 1-0 results, which means we’ve a clean slate and scored a goal. We need to analyse our game again before trying to fix our problems. Of course, we need a leader at our rear,” said Caixinha, whose men have conceded nine goals from two games and now find themselves 13th in the 14-team table. Only Muaither, who lost 0-1 against Al Shahaniya, are below them.

Al Sadd and El Jaish also won to occupy the second and third places behind Lekhwiya. Sadd overcame Ahli 2-1 while Jaish scored a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Arabi.

Defending champions Al Rayyan settled for a goalless draw with Umm Salal while Al Kharaitiyat defeated Al Wakrah 2-1. In last week’s other action, Al Khor beat Al Sailiya 1-0. DSP

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