Doha, Qatar: Al Gharafa dealt Al Duhail SC’s Qatar Stars League title ambitions a mighty blow after holding them to a goalless draw on Saturday.
The two-time defending champions and six-time winners in the last eight editions now find the title challenge out of their hands and leaders Al Sadd, who play Al Rayyan later in the day, need to lose points for Duhail to nurture any hopes of defending the title.
Duhail, who lost Qatar‘s Asian Cup hero Almoez Ali to an ankle injury, started with Paulo Edmilson on the bench while in defence new signing Medhi Benatia partnered Bassam Al Rawi.
While Duhail undoubtedly were the better side in the game, they failed to put Gharafa defence under any sustained pressure.
Youssef El Arabi’s shot that missed the target by a couple of metres and Al Rawi’s freekick from just outside the box that also failed to test Gharafa goalkeeper Youssef Hassan were Duhail’s only noteworthy efforts on goal in the first half while at the other end, Amin Lecomte had a jobless opening period under the bar.
The game continued to be confined to the midfield in the second half as well with Duhail enjoying the better of the exchanges without really threatening.
And it was Gharafa who came closest to breaking the deadlock with Ahmed Alaaeldin testing Lecomte with a snapshot from outside the box after a quick counter after the hour mark.
The game became more open all of a sudden as El Arabi sent his shot wide after a beautifully constructed move involving Mohammed Muntari and Nakajima Shoya while the new Japanese recruit fired his shot straight at Hassan a few minutes later.
Duhail brought in Edmilson, whose omission from the first eleven was a surprise, in place of Muntari in the 67th minute and the pacy winger seemed to have made an instant impact when he found the target with a low shot, but referee Abdulhadi Al Ruaile disallowed the goal for offside after making use of VAR.
Edmilson continued to be heavily involved in the game, with his pace and trickery proving to be a handful for Gharafa defence which lost Diogo Amado to injury in the 82nd, and the Belgian again came close to putting Duhail ahead when he rounded keeper Hassan only to be denied by Ilyas Ahmed on the goalline.
Edmilson then drew a save from Hassan on his near side after turning a couple of defenders inside out as Duhail looked desperate for a win. El Arabi then drew another stop from Hassan who had to parry the ball away a second time as Duhail pushed forward in search of a winner, which never came.
Duhail coach Fui Faria had said they were a work in progress and the Gharafa show suggests they need to go a long way forward to snatch the advantage from Al Sadd.