IT WAS a reality check for Al Shamal, who earned promotion to the Qatar Stars League (QSL) this season after triumphing in the Qatargas League (second division).
In the Emir’s Cup third round last week, they were thrashed 5-1 by Al Khor.
Shamal, though a goal down, were well and truly in the match till the 69th minute at the Al Arabi Stadium, but three goals in a span of eight minutes gave them a stark reminder of the tough life that awaits them in the premier division.
But their coach Silvio Diliberto said it was just the beginning of a learning process.
“We were all aware of the difference in quality between the QSL and lower division. It’ll be a challenge for us. We’ll definitely make some changes in the team,” the Italian told Doha Stadium Plus.
Diliberto had to endure four years of struggle in Qatar before finally tasting success with Shamal, but next season could be his biggest test.
Despite the shattering blow from Khor, he remained calm and exuded confidence that Shamal would be ready for the challenge.
He does not want his team to suffer the fate of Muaither SC, who got relegated after gaining promotion from the second division last year.
“We don’t want to think that way. All my players want to play in the top league, but we must quickly adapt to the changes,” he said. “We can show ourselves in a better way. The defeat against Khor was a signal that we’ve to do better. We know the gap between the first and second division, and we must prepare accordingly.”
Born to an Italian father and Dutch mother and raised in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Diliberto had played alongside some of the top names including current Holland coach Louis van Gaal and his assistant Danny Blind during his younger days, with Sparta Rotterdam from 1981-86.
“When I played for Sparta Rotterdam, they were my seniors. I’ve learnt a lot from these players who’re now top coaches,” said Diliberto.
The talented midfielder’s football career was cut short by injuries and he ended up in the NFL as a ‘kicker’ for Amsterdam Admirals.
“At 30, I had to stop playing football because of an injury. I was a bit unlucky as injury ended my career and I couldn’t continue beyond FC Eindhoven.
“I used to go to the gym and spent time at home. I was getting a little fidgety as I missed football. But luckily, I got an offer from the NFL club who thought my passes and crosses were good enough to hire me as a kicker.
“I agreed to join them as it gave me the opportunity to stay close to sport. Though it wasn’t football, I was happy to be on the field. Even though it was for a short time, I could extend my career as a sportsman,” he said.
While he is all set to chart a survival route for Shamal, Diliberto may take a cue from another second division side Al Ahli, who did commendably well in the top flight.
Excellent planning and right selection of players made them a successful side. In experienced Milan Macala, Ahli found the right person to guide them in the league which witnessed the shock exit of heavyweight Al Rayyan this time.
The Emir’s Cup was only a test dose for Shamal and the real show is yet to start. Diliberto and his boys need to pick up fast to prove that they belong to the top flight.
“I won’t let go of this opportunity. There’s a lot of time for the league to start, but we’re keen to bolster our side. Definitely, we need better planning and my first job will be to prepare my players mentally. They must know by now they aren’t with a second division side anymore. If they understand that, my job would be half done,” said Diliberto, who is expecting the club to renew his contract.
It is common for clubs in Qatar to hire new coaches after qualifying for the top league, but Diliberto looks the best person to guide Shamal in their onward journey.
“I think I’ve done a good job and I deserve a fair deal. I hope the club will extend my contract,” he said.