Doha, Qatar: There are plenty of changes in personnel, both coaching as well as playing, for a number of teams as the QNB Stars League restarts after a two-month break, but the biggest difference will be that a selected bunch of talented, hardworking men, who went to the UAE to fight for their country against all odds now have the title Asian champions.
The likes of Almoez Ali, Akram Afif, Bassam Al Rawi and Abdulaziz Hatem will continue to give their all for their club sides as well but now there will surely be an extra spring in their steps.
Afif and Almoez, who almost had a telepathic understanding as they tore their rivals to shreds, will now be arch-rivals once again in the colours of Al Sadd and Al Duhail.
Almoez and his Duhail teammates Al Rawi, Assim Madibo and Karim Boudiaf now have a new coach in Rui Faria, the former assistant of Jose Mourinho and two new stars in Medhi Benatia and Shoya Nakajima.
Duhail are two points behind leaders Sadd but AFC Champions League is surely going to be their top priority. They were in sensational form during the initial stages of the last edition before losing to Persepolis in the quarterfinal.
They would also be keen to retain the QSL title and have a tough outing against third-placed Al Sailiya on Saturday.
Sadd, who take on Al Khor, too have an eye on the Champions League trophy, which they won in 2011 and have wisely added Nam Tae-Hee to their roster, the South Korean scheduled to join at the start of next season.
Sadd defender Boaulem Khouki was the most calming presence in Qatar defence in the UAE, and now he will be trying to stop the likes of Almoez and Abdulaziz Hatem.
Al Gharafa midfielder Hatem was hoping for a bit part role in the UAE, but he proved to be a revelation, and a man of big occasions, scoring against Korea and in the final, both with stunning strikes.
Gharafa too have Champions League ambitions and have signed Lucas Mendes from Duhail. They take on Umm Salal on Thursday.
Arabi did not have much to show for in terms of contributing to the national team, but they now have a new high profile coach in Heimir Hallgrímsson, who along with Lars Lagerbäck, famously led Iceland to the quarterfinals of the Euro 2016.
Arabi have also made some star signings with Ivory Coast’s Wilfried Bony joining from Swansea City on loan until the end of the season.
Arabi also signed Iranian defender Morteza Pouraliganji, who is going to as important as Bony or even more as they look for a top-four finish.
Arabi have a very tough match against fourth-placed Al Rayyan and Hallgrímsson said his side need to improve a lot.
“The team was led by a large number of coaches belonging to eight different nationalities, meaning that the players were trained in eight different schools, which undoubtedly affects,” said Hallgrímsson.
“We want to stabilise until we achieve the goal we’re working on. I studied the team during the last stage of the current league. The results and figures don’t match. The team suffers from wrong results. There’re many areas for improvement. We're trying to rectify them,” he added.
In other matches, Al Khararitiyat take on Al Ahli, and Qatar SC play Al Shahania.