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Qatar’s Invincibles Lift World Cup Hopes after Two Wins

Qatar’s Invincibles Lift World Cup Hopes after Two Wins

Saturday, 19 March, 2022 - 10:15
Hassan Mattar a former Al-Sadd striker who now works for the club, poses with its trophies - before the team clinched its latest league title KARIM JAAFAR AFP/File

When Al Sadd wrapped up a second straight Qatar title by stretching their unbeaten league run to 49 games, they were inevitably dubbed the 'Invincibles' after another team that reached the same number.

While the 12-team Qatar League is not as formidable as the 2003-4 English Premier league, unlike Arsenal, Al Sadd have turned their run into two league titles.

Their form has inspired hopes for the national team in the country that is hosting the World Cup.

Al Sadd's squad contains the bulk of Qatar's national side, as well as a former Arsenal star Santi Cazorla and ex-Premier League regular Andre Ayew.

Al Sadd have swept aside rivals featuring the likes of Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld at Al Duhail and Colombian James Rodriguez at Al Rayyan.

Alderweireld's side beat Al Sadd this week in the Amir's Cup, the top domestic knockout. Al Rayyan, however, got rid of former France coach Laurent Blanc last month because they could not compete in the 12-team Qatar Stars League.

Al Sadd coach Javi Gracia, battle-hardened at Watford in England and Valencia in Spain before taking over when Xavi Hernandez returned to Barcelona in November, said his players had "achieved something very special".

Cazorla, who spent six seasons at Arsenal, said Al Sadd's streak dating back to March 2020 was simply "historic", AFP reported.

Having equalled Arsenal's unbeaten run, the Qataris see nothing stopping them getting past AC Milan's 58-game streak in Italy in 1991-93 and Celtic's 69 games in 2016-2017 in Scotland. Romania's Steaua Bucharest went unbeaten for 104 league matches from 1985 to 1989.

"The Wolves", as they are known, see their home success as a launchpad for the Asian Champions League starting in April, and the World Cup that Qatar will host in November-December.

Defender Tarek Salman said he felt he was part of a "golden generation" at Al Sadd along with national captain Hassan Al-Haydos and the foreign contingent.

"Most of Al Sadd's players are internationals and this (success) stimulates enthusiasm, courage and the desire to be fully ready for the World Cup," the 24-year-old told AFP.

Al Sadd players make up about three-quarters of the national side. Salman said this was "good for club and country" as they have developed a deep understanding over the years.

Qatar, winners of the Asian Cup in 2019, face growing expectations to at least get past the first round in this year's World Cup, their debut on football's biggest stage.

Muhammad Ghulam Al-Balushi, a product of the Al Sadd system who is now its sporting director, said the club's victories showed how it is "a castle built for achievements and breaking records."

"It is no secret that most of the national players at the World Cup will be from Al Sadd, and this confirms that Al Sadd prepares players to be ready," he said, challenging other clubs to match Al Sadd's work-rate.

"We lost the league two years ago, losing one or two matches, with the same team we have now. But we came back, corrected the mistakes and worked. Now we are getting results."

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