Doha, Qatar: Like two heroic boxers not willing to take a step back, champions Al Duhail SC and challengers Al Sadd traded blows and in the end, but at the end of 90 minutes the men in whites proved too powerful for the Red Knights, who tasted defeat after a 41-game unbeaten run in the league.
The 3-1 victory gave Sadd a two-point lead at the top of the table and more importantly the bragging rights over their rivals.
Youssef El Arabi gave Duhail the lead in the sixth minute, but an own goal from Lucas Mendes in the 9th helped Sadd level the scores before a beauty from substitute Salem Al Hajri in the 89th and another striker from Baghdad Bounedjah won it for Wolves.
After 15 matches in the league which is again a two-horse race, Sadd have 38 points to Duhail’s 36.
With just a point separating the two teams, the match between the bigwigs of Qatari football was termed as the clash of the superpowers.
And it lived up to every bit of the hype.
Duhail started the more brightly and Boudiaf, who conducted the play like a boss, played a beautiful one-two with Almoez Ali to open up Sadd defence.
Even though his first attempt was saved by Sadd Al Dossari, his second shot hit the hand of Boualem Khouki and the referee pointed to the spot.
Youssef El Arabi, sent Al Dossari the wrong way from the spot to score his 19th goal of the tournament.
But four minutes later, Al Sadd turned defence into attack in lightning speed as Woo-Young Jung found Akram Afif, who these days is unstoppable more often than not.
The Qatari forward went past his marker with utmost ease and his cross into the danger area proved too hot to handle for Lucas Mendes whose sliding effort put the ball in his own net.
With the arch rivals not willing to take their foot off the pedal, chances came thick and fast at either end but it was Duhail who looked the more dangerous in the first half.
While Jung’s shot from outside the box that stung Khalifa Ababacar’s hands was Sadd’s best effort, at the other end, Duhail missed quite a few chances with both Edmilson and El Arabi guilty of spurning gilt-edged opportunities.
Even though Sadd boasted two Spanish midfield maestros in Xavi and Gabi, they both were outshone by Duhail’s Qatari star Boudiaf whose passing and elegant ball control at times, especially in the first half, suggested he came to the match right after watching a Zinedine Zidane tricks compilation.
But when Boudiaf lost possession in the 37th minute, Sadd almost punished Duhail with a fast counter from which Pedro, who ran almost the whole length of the pitch after intercepting the ball deep in his own half, came close to scoring.
Attack looked to be the keyword in the second half as well and after Sadd’s Boualem Khouki tested Ababacar with a powerful free-kick, Edmilson sent his header above the crossbar at the other end.
But Sadd slowly started to look the more dangerous and Akram Afif missed a glorious chance to put them ahead when he fired his shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Sadd were enjoying a period of sustained pressure, and Duhail were lucky to survive that passage of play.
The champions were also helped by the fact that Sadd’s record goal-scorer Bounedjah was not at his best, missing a clear header before being denied by Bassam Hisham’s extended feet.
Sadd substituted Jung and a little while later Xavi also, with both seemingly unhappy with the Jesualdo Ferreira’s decision, but Salem al Hajri, who replaced the South Korean had the biggest influence in the game with a moment of sheer brilliance.
Al Hajri collected the ball just outside Duhail area, nutmegged Boudiaf, evaded the attention of Bassam before bulging the net with a beautiful left-footer. As Sadd players celebrated with surprise goalscorer, Jesualdo had a knowing smile on his lips.
Sadd had time for another goal as Bounedjah had not found the target yet, and the Algerian did that deep in added time as Duhail went all out looking for an equaliser.