The 2018-19 QNB Stars League stood out for more reasons than one. On the competition front, Al Sadd’s triumph for a record-extending 14th time, Al Kharaitiyat’s relegation to the Second Division and Al Sailiya’s third-place finish for the first time in their history highlighted the season. It goes without saying that all clubs will try to build on their good work in the new season even as they take stock of their strengths and weaknesses.

The 2018-19 QNB Stars League was also noted for a number of events, which happened off the field. Against this backdrop, the Qatar Stars League (QSL) website reviews the tournament that went by.

Rise of Al Shahania

Al Shahania competed in the 2018-19 QNB Stars League by virtue of being the 2017-18 Second Division champions. They thus returned to the top flight and showed excellent levels in many matches, proving themselves as a strong side.

Season Launch

A Press conference was held at the W Hotel on 25th July, 2018, to mark the season launch.

QSL’s Executive Director of Marketing, Sales and Communication Mr. Hassan Rabiah Al Kuwari, Director of Competitions Department Mr. Ahmed Al Adsani, Al Dawri and Al Kass Sports Channel’s Director of Operations Mr. Turky Al Subaie and Security Department official Captain Mubarak Bilal Al Ali were among those who attended the elegant ceremony.

Early start

The new season began early, on 4th August, because of the national team’s preparations for the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE and Qatari clubs’ qualification for the AFC Champions League’s knockout phase. Al Duhail had reached the quarterfinal and Al Sadd made it to the semifinal.

The start of the season was quite exceptional.

Season Cards

The QSL, in partnership with the 12 member clubs, made it even more convenient for fans to attend and watch their teams in action by launching the unique Season Cards on 19th September, 2018, through its website.

First-Leg Highlights

The 2018-19 season QNB Stars League’s first leg that concluded on 4th November witnessed many thrilling contests and exciting results. Al Sadd’s 10-1 win over Al Arabi in Week 2, with ace Algerian striker Baghdad Bounedjah scoring seven goals stood out.

Al Duhail’s 6-0 victory over Al Khor, also in Week 2, and Al Arabi’s 5-1 win over Umm Salal in Week 4 were the other notable results.

The matches between Al Arabi and Al Rayyan always hog the limelight as it is a contest between two teams with the most loyal and traditional fan base in Qatar. This time, Al Rayyan won 1-0 in Week 5.

Al Sadd beat Al Rayyan 5-0 in the Qatar Clasico played in Week 6. Al Khor defeated Al Kharaitiyat 5-1 in Week 9 and Al Gharafa put it across Al Khor by a 6-0 margin.

Among the most notable results in the first leg was the 3-1 victory of Al Sadd over Al Duhail in Week 9. The game was postponed and played at the Al Sadd Stadium on 11th December due to AFC Champions League engagement.

New stars and players shine

A number of players starred in the first leg, including the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Akram Afif, Bounedjah, Qatar national team captain Hassan Al Haydous (all Al Sadd), Nam Tae-Hee, Yousef El Arabi, Almoez Ali (Al Duhai), Rodrigo Tabata, Mohammed Alaaeldin, Abdulrahman Al Korbi (all Al Rayyan), Mouhcine Moutaouly (Al Ahli), Rashid Tiberkanine, Abdulqadir Ilyas and Abdulkarim Salem (all Al Sailiya).

Ahmed Ibrahim excelled for Al Arabi, while Al Khor rode on Wagner Ferreira.

Qatar SC signed Samuel Eto’o, a former Barcelona player who also represented a number of European clubs. Al Ahli featured a number of outstanding players, including Dutchman Nigel de Jong and Iranian Omid Ibrahimi.

As far as Qatari players were concerned, Al Rayyan attracted Khalfan Ibrahim from Al Arabi and Al Sailiya recruited Abdulkadir Ilyas.

Left-back Abdelkarim Hassan, who continued to impress with Al Sadd, was adjudged the best player in Asia at the AFC Award Ceremony in Oman.

Start of second leg

The second leg started on Thursday, 8th November, 2018, with Week 12 matches. A meeting of the QSL was held with clubs’ representatives.

The QSL co-operated with the clubs in order to achieve the common goals. The schedule for Weeks 12, 13, 14 and 15 were announced. Winter timing of matches came into force from Week 13 onwards.

Break for Asian Cup

The tournament was halted after the Week 15 action due to the request of the national team management in view of preparations for the Asian Cup.

The postponed game between Al Sadd and Al Duhail was the last fixture played, on 11th December, 2018. The rescheduling, from Week 9, was made due to the engagements in 2018 AFC Champions League, where Al Duhail qualified for the quarterfinal and Al Sadd for the semifinal.

Strong deals in winter transfer window

The winter transfer window was an ideal opportunity for some teams to strengthen their squads. It witnessed special signings by some clubs. The most prominent among them were that of Moroccan international defender Mehdi Benatia from Juventus and Japanese midfielder Shoya Nakajima. Both joined Al Duhail.

Al Arabi recruited Ivory Coast star Wilfried Bony from Swansea City, Morteza Pouraliganji, Spain’s Victor Vazquez, Ibrahim Majed and Musaab Khader.

Al Rayyan roped in Venezuelan striker Gelmin Rivas, while Al Khor recruited Brazilian striker Thiago Bezerra from Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor, Tunisian Ayman Trabelsi and Lebanese Alexander Melki.

Umm Salal added Brazilian Anderson Benedito and Luis Otavio to their ranks.

Brazilian Lucas Mendes moved from Al Duhail to Al Gharafa and Mohamed Muntari returned to Al Duhail after representing Al Ahli.

Resumption after break

After the 2019 Asian Cup, where Qatar triumphed, with Almoez emerging as the top scorer and best player, and Saad Al Dossari winning the best-goalkeeper award, the spotlight was back on the QNB Stars League. Week 16 games were played on 14th, 15th and 16th February.

Implementation of VAR (Video Assistant Referee)

In line with the QSL’s keenness to keep pace with the latest developments and in co-operation with the Qatar Football Association and its Referees Committee, the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology was introduced in the QNB Stars League after the Asian Cup.

Important matches in second leg

The second section saw many important matches and results that had a direct impact on the standings. Al Sadd won the league title with one round to spare. On the contrary, Al Duhail lost some points either by drawing or losing matches.

Al Duhail were held 2-2 by Al Rayyan, while Al Sadd defeated Al Gharafa 8-1, both in Week 14.

Week 17 saw the Qatar Clasico between Al Rayyan and Al Sadd, with the latter winning by a 4-0 margin.

Al Sadd continued to produce good results, including an 8-1 victory over Qatar SC in Week 18.

The second leg also witnessed some exciting matches, which had bearing on the teams’ standings, be it on the top, middle or bottom of the table.

Al Kharaitiyat, coached by former Qatar international Wesam Rizik, registered three successive victories in Weeks 17, 18 and 19, against Umm Salal, Al Gharafa and Qatar SC in that order.

Launch of Live Match Analysis

Keeping pace with the latest developments and as part of embracing technology and innovation for the benefit of professional football in Qatar and QNB Stars League, the QSL launched ‘Live Match Analysis’ system to become the first in Asia to do so and second in the world, after the Danish league.

The innovative system was launched at a ceremony held in Doha’s St Regis Hotel on Wednesday, 27th March, 2019, in the presence of QSL CEO Mr. Hani Taleb Ballan, QFA General Secretary Mr. Mansoor Al Ansari, Qatari media personality Mr. Majed Al Khulaifi and former Qatar international as well as Qatar SC player Abdulaziz Hassan.

Mr. Hassan Rabiah Al Kuwari, Executive Director of Marketing, Sales and Communication at QSL, Mr. Ahmed Khellil Abbassi, Executive Director of Competition and Football Development (Acting) at QSL, Mr. Fahad Thani, Director of Football Development at QFA, FIFA’s Performance and Game Analyst Mr. Christopher Loxston, AFC’s Research and Innovation Director Mr. Keitaro Aoki as well as representatives of clubs, guests, sports personalities and media personnel were present on the occasion.

The system was implemented from Week 20 of the QNB Stars League in all matches. A similar system was used at last year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, but the QSL used it after making some modifications.

The ‘Live Match Analysis’ is a computer-based match analysis system connected to a tactical video camera positioned in the main tribune of stadiums, which will enable the performance analyst to send short tactical video clips, and technical data to the iPad of coaching staff positioned in the team bench during matches.

Al Duhail vs Al Sadd game

Al Duhail and Al Sadd were locked in an electrifying 2-2 draw in their QNB Stars League Week 20 heavyweight clash on Saturday, 30th March.

Yousef El Arabi, the last two seasons’ league top scorer in Qatar, struck Al Duhail’s goals in the 75th and 85th minutes. Baghdad Bounedjah had put Al Sadd ahead by scoring in the 26th minute. The Wolves were helped by an own goal by substitute Murad Naji at the stroke of final whistle (90+5).

Much was at stake for the match as Al Sadd would have been crowned had they won the match. On the other hand, Al Duhail needed only a draw to stay in the title race.

Al Sadd had beaten Al Duhail 3-1 in the first leg.

Al Sadd officially crowned champions

Al Sadd were officially crowned as the 2018-19 QNB Stars League champions following their 7-2 victory over Al Ahli in Week 21. The Wolves, who had taken an unassailable lead, made it memorable in front of home fans.

QSL CEO Mr. Hani Taleb Ballan and Qatar National Bank General Manager for Communications Mr. Salem Anzan Al Nuaimi crowned the winners.

Tournament top scorer Bounedjah (sixth-min penalty, 45+1 and 81st minute), Qatar national team captain Al Haydous (24th and 75th-min penalty), Qatar international and former Villarreal player Akram Afif (53rd) and South Korean midfielder Jung Woo-Young (90+4) scored for Al Sadd.

Nigel de Jong (71st) and Abdulrasheed Ibrahim (79th minute) scored Al Ahli’s goals.

Top-four battle and Al Sailiya’s achievement

Al Sailiya secured their best-ever position in the Qatar league (third). The Peregrines collected a total of 38 points, one more than Al Rayyan, who were edged to the fourth place.

Al Shahania earn creditable finish

Al Shahania achieved remarkable success in the QNB Stars League after earning promotion from the Second Division. They finished in a creditable seventh position with 27 points, one more than big name Al Gharafa.

Al Shahania recorded seven victories, six draws and nine defeats. In the process, they got some excellent results. Jose Murcia’s men undoubtedly benefited from stability in the squad, on the technical and player fronts.

Al Kharaitiyat relegated to Second Division

Al Kharaitiyat were relegated to the Second Division after they lost 2-5 to Al Sailiya in the final round when all six matches were played on same day (Saturday, 13th April).

Al Kharaitiyat ended up with 15 points (five wins and 17 defeats) to be placed last in the table.

Qatar SC go into Play-Off

After losing 3-4 to Al Rayyan in Week 22, Qatar SC finished the tournament in 11th place and thereby went into the Play-Off with Second Division runners-up Muaither SC.

Successful coaches

The tournament saw a number of coaches lead their clubs with great success, notably Al Sadd’s Portuguese master Jesualdo Ferreira, who won his first league title in Qatar.

Tunisian Sami Trabelsi also made it big by guiding Al Sailiya to a creditable third position, their best finish so far, while Spaniard Jose Murcia led Al Shahania to a respectable seventh-place finish.

Despite getting relegated, Qatari coach Wesam Rizik did well with Al Kharaitiyat as they won three matches in a row (in Weeks 17, 18 and 19).

Al Sadd achieve many goals

Al Sadd set many records in the tournament en route to clinching the title. They scored 100 goals in 22 matches, with an average of 4.5 goals per game, for the first time in Qatar league history. They won 18 of them, drew three and lost one. They conceded only 22 goals to have a goal difference of +78, the most by any team.

Al Sadd, who finished the league with 57 points, registered many impressive wins and produced excellent displays.

Bounedjah sets record

Bounedjah topped the chart with a record 39 goals from 22 matches with an average of 1.7 goals per game, as he played a vital role in Al Sadd’s triumph in the QNB Stars League.

In the process, Bounedjah became the Qatar league’s all-time top scorer in a single season. He surpassed Brazilian striker Clemerson Soares’ record of 27 goals set in the 2007-08 season for Al Gharafa.

Players shine during the season

During the 2018-19 season, a number of overseas professionals, Qatari players and youngsters proved their worth.

Among the most prominent foreign professionals were Spanish star Xavi Hernandez, Bounedjah, Moroccan striker El Arabi, his compatriot Benatia, Nakajima, Moroccan forward Rachid Tiberkanine, Algerian Nadir Belhadj, Brazilian Rivas, Dutchman Nigel de Jong, Al Khor’s Brazilian Wagner Ferreira and Al Shahania’s Iranian player Ramin Rezaeian.

Al Sadd had the credit of making the most number of Qatari players shine. Right from goalkeeper Saad to defenders Bualem Khoukhi, Tareq Salman, Abdulkarim Hassan, the best player in Asia in 2018, Salem Al Hajri in the middle and Hassan Al Haydous and Akram Afif in the attack.

A number of national players also starred with Al Duhail, most notably Bassam Al Rawi, Almoez, and Karim Boudiaf.

In Al Sailiya, Al Menhali starred alongside striker Al Hadaf, Abdulqader Ilyas, Magdi Siddiq and Mohammed Medhtar.

In Al Rayyan, Mowaffaq Awad performed well, alongside goalkeeper Fahd Younis.

Al Gharafa had the likes of Amro Seraj, Elias Ahmed, Yousef Hassan, Ahmed Alaaeldin and Nasser Al Ahraq, while Al Arabi boast of Hashim Ali and Mohammed Salah El Neel.

For Al Shahania, goalkeeper Amer Al Amri and Yousef Hani shone among others.

Qatar SC beat Muaither SC in Play-Off

Qatar SC beat Muaither SC 1-0 in Play-Off at the Al Duhail Stadium on 17th April, 2019, to retain their place in next season’s QNB Stars League.

The Play-Off pitted QNB Stars League’s 11th-placed team (Qatar SC) against Second Division runners-up (Muaither SC).

Qatar SC scored in the 38th minute through Hussein Ali’s slick finish from close range. The Kings held off Muaither SC challenge in the second half as well to emerge as the winners.