AS THE new Qatar League season begins on Wednesday, El Jaish look the team to beat.
The Armymen were on a roll last season, annexing a domestic treble without breaking a sweat. Most members of the Qatar national team, which reached the quarterfinal of the Rio Olympics, are from Jaish and that itself is their main strength.
Last season, Jaish were barely able to show their full might as most of the national team members were initially busy with the Asian Championship preparations and later with Rio Games build-up.
That they won all but one of the 22 league matches despite the absence of key players showed how good Jaish were.
The Armymen triumphed with four rounds to go and the only match that they could not win was against Lekhwiya who held them, but that was after the title was decided.
With players of the calibre of right-back Zarko Markovic, left-backs Rafael Capote, as well as Juan del Arco and centre Mohammed Mahjbi in their ranks, Jaish look very formidable as they target their fourth Qatar League title in seven years.
“We remained unbeaten in the Qatar League last year and won three titles in the season. We’re hopeful of doing an encore this time. The players look fresh after the break,” said Jaish’s Handball Head Khalid Saif Al Kuwari.
Lekhwiya, who last won the Qatar League in 2013, hope to mount a strong challenge this time. They clinched the Asian Clubs League in March and that earned them a berth at the IHF Super Globe, where they could manage only a fifth-place finish.
But they have been boosted by the arrival of national player Bertrand Roine from Al Ahli.
“We were the only team to have challenged Jaish last season. We succeeded in ending their winning streak. We’ve the confidence to do it again,” said Lekhwiya coach Thabeth Mahfouz.
Sadd were Qatar’s second representative in the Super Globe and though they lost out on a podium finish, they did reasonably well to end up fourth.
Sadd coach Chouaib Kafi had said after the competition that it was a perfect tune-up for the league. His confidence also stems from the fact that the nine-time league champions have signed right-back Amine Bannour, Tunisia’s leading scorer at the Rio Games and his compatriot centre back Mohamed Sousi.
“We’ll do well. I’ve full faith in my wards. The new players have been gelling well with the team,” said Chouaib.
Former champions Al Rayyan, who finished third, and arch-rivals Al Gharafa are still in the process of finalising their squad and the stage is all set for a long and exciting season.
Champions Jaish take on Al Khor in the lung opener on Wednesday.