Al Gharrafa underlined their dominance of the Qatar Stars League by winning the title for the third time in succession and seventh overall. They finished three points clear of 11-times winners Al Sadd, with a 4-1 victory over their closest rivals in the teams’ penultimate league game proving decisive.
The first of Al Gharrafa’s impressive triple title success came in 2007/08 when finishing a hefty nine points clear of Al Sadd, though the gap had shrunk to just four points when they retained their crown the following campaign. Indeed, many observers had predicted that Al Sadd would be back on top of the pile this season following some choice pre-season squad strengthening.
However under Brazilian coach Caio Junior, who joined at the start of the season from Japanese outfit Vissel Kobe, the Cheetahs did it again to claim their seventh championship crown. Much of the credit must go to Iraqi striker Younis Mahmoud, who finished the season as the division’s top scorer. What is more, the hero of Iraq’s 2007 AFC Asian Cup triumph grabbed a vital brace in the space of just four minutes in 19 March’s vital win over Al Sadd.
The players gave it everything and I thank them for the win and the fighting spirit they have shown from the start of the season. They are worthy champions. Al Gharrafa are a team used to winning titles and the players all have a winning mentality, which is very important.
In that table-topping clash, Brazilian Clemerson de Araujo had fired Al Gharrafa into the lead in the first half only for his countryman Leandro da Silva to reply for the visitors and ensure the teams were level at the break. The outcome was subsequently decided in Al Gharrafa’s favour with a devastating six-minute second-half spell, Saad Al Shammari edging the home side in front before that double from skipper Mahmoud.
“We’ve just played an extremely important game and Al Gharrafa played as if it was a cup final, but we simply had to win,” said coach Junior following the title-clinching victory. “The players gave it everything and I thank them for the win and the fighting spirit they have shown from the start of the season. They are worthy champions. Al Gharrafa are a team used to winning titles and the players all have a winning mentality, which is very important.”
Looking for more silverware
And having already claimed the league title and the Qatari Stars Cup, coach Junior is eyeing yet more silverware before the campaign is over. “Al Gharrafa will continue to compete. We may have won the first-ever edition of the Stars Cup but there are still other trophies to win this season. First there is the Qatar Crown Prince Cup then the Emir of Qatar Cup, not to mention the [AFC] Asian Champions League.”
A total of 16 wins, five draws and a solitary defeat against Al Wakra in their opening game was enough to hand the title to the Cheetahs. Rivals Al Sadd, under Romanian strategist Cosmin Olaroui, therefore had to make do with runners-up spot, despite having topped the table for long periods. Crossing the line in third were seven-times champions Al Arabi, with Qatar SC edging home a point ahead of Al Rayyan to clinch fourth spot and the final berth in the end-of-season Qatar Crown Prince Cup.
Of Al Gharrafa’s goals-scored tally of 55 - the joint highest in the division along with Al Sadd - the bulk came via Mahmoud and Araujo, who found the net 21 and 15 times respectively. Also making his presence felt was former Lyon midfielder and set-piece genius Juninho Pernambucano, whose 11 assists proved invaluable in keeping his club firmly on top of the Qatar Stars League.