With the curtain having just come down on the 2014/2015 edition of the Qatar Stars League, Lekhwiya are once again celebrating, after claiming their fourth title in five years with a game in hand. Also this season, Al Sadd and Al Jaish renewed their fierce rivalry near the top of the table, while Al Rayyan secured their return to the top flight by virtue of winning the second division.
FIFA.com takes a look back at the highlights of another captivating season in the Qatar Stars League.
Making a point
According to the old adage, getting to the top might be tough but staying there is much harder. That said, Lekhwiya made the retention of their league crown look quite easy, steadily progressing towards title number four thanks in no small measure to their experienced coach Michael Laudrup, who took the reins last July.
Stability has clearly been a key factor in the club’s success under the Dane. Algeria’s Madjid Bougherra was the only foreign player to leave this season, and he was immediately replaced by Spanish defender Chico Flores. This continuity and lack of upheaval helped generate a tight-knit outfit and positive results.
Though not the most potent attacking outfit in the league, Lekhwiya were extremely solid at the back, and that proved key. The champions conceded a paltry 25 goals from 26 games, seven fewer than the next best defence, that of Al Jaish. The team’s overseas triumvirate of Nam Taehee of Korea Republic, Vladimir Weiss of Slovakia and Tunisian Youssef Msakni made a decisive contribution with their goals, while Qatar international Sebastian Soria was top scorer for the team with 11 strikes.
Despite this success, Laudrup is still hungry for more silverware, saying. “It’s true that Lekhwiya have never won more than a single competition in one season, but I hope I can to rise to that challenge and become the first coach to take two or more in a campaign. We have an excellent group of players so the odds of our winning more titles are high.”
Back in the fray
Just like last season, Lekhwiya’s main title rivals were Al Sadd and Al Jaish, with the champions’ only two defeats coming at their hands. However, these results did not affect the final outcome as both sides needlessly dropped throughout the competition, with Al Sadd drawing six times and Al Jaish denied what would have been a maiden league title by their nine defeats.
While Al Jaish were runners-up last year, Al Sadd had the distinction this time out, finishing with a ten-point lead over their long-standing rivals. Unsurprisingly, Al Sadd were much stronger going forward this season, recording 66 goals in total, mainly thanks to the strike partnership of Hassan Al Haidos and Khalfan Ibrahim.
For their part, Al Jaish fought off the challenge of eight-time champions Qatar SC to take third place by a single point courtesy of a 2-1 win over Al Khritiyat on the final matchday. The result also guaranteed them a berth in the qualifying phase of next season’s AFC Champions League. For that achievement, considerable credit has to go their Brazilian forward Romarinho, who finished the season as third-highest scorer on 16 goals.
Big guns struggle
Yet while Lekhwiya were setting the pace, other major clubs with large followings and recent successes struggled for consistency. Al Gharrafa, who took three league championships on the spin between 2008 and 2010, could only finish fifth, while Al Arabi, the team with the country’s biggest and best-established fan base, tied for seventh with Al Ahli, whose Congolese striker Alain Kaluyituka Dioko was league top scorer with 25 goals.
Elsewhere, Umm Salal continued their poor form of recent seasons, managing a mid-table finish in eighth, while Al Khor trailed even further behind, ending up a disappointing eleventh.
Two-time former champions Al Wakra had a genuine scare, narrowly escaping Al Rayyan’s fate from last season in dropping down into the second tier. A superior goal difference to that of league debutants Al Shahaniya spared them the drop and saw the latter relegated along with bottom side Al Shamal.
10 – The number of away victories Lekhwiya racked up this season. The side’s consistency away from home, where they did not lose any of their 13 games and conceded just nine goals, paved the way for their title success.
“We ended the season in style and the players performed at an excellent level. We now have two competitions to try and win. I can say that I’ve done my job perfectly, but there are other challenges now, such as the Qatar Cup, the Emir Cup and the AFC Champions League,” Lekhwiya coach, Michael Laudrup.