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2016/17 QATAR STARS LEAGUE PREVIEW

League format

  • 14 teams

Continental Competition Qualification – How it works *

PositionCompetition Stage Edition
QSL championsAFC Champions League (ACL)Group stage2018
QSL runners-upACLPlayoffs2018
QSL 3rd placeACLPlayoffs2018
Emir's Cup championsACLGroup stage2018

* Probable allocation based on current rankings. ACL slots for the period 2018-2020 will only be confirmed in November 2016.

Relegation to QatarGas League

In 2017/18, the QSL will reduce its number of clubs from 14 to 12. The exact system of relegation/promotion that will be used in 2016/17 to achieve this is yet to be confirmed. What can be confirmed is that clubs in the QSL’s bottom four (11-14) will face relegation, while the two best-placed non-reserve teams in the QGL will have a chance to get promoted.

Qatar Cup format

  • Straight knockout
  • Top 4 QSL teams enter
  • 1st v 4th and 2nd v 3rd in single-leg semifinal

Emir Cup format

  • 18 teams [14 QSL teams + 4 QatarGas League teams]
  • Straight knockout
  • QatarGas League teams enter in Round One
  • Bottom 6 QSL teams enter in Round Two
  • QSL teams ranked 5th -8th enter in Round Three
  • Top 4 QSL teams enter in the Quarter-final stage

Squad rules and regulations

  • Playing XI limited to four foreign players (one Asian and three others of any nationality)

TEAM-BY-TEAM PREVIEW

Teams are listed according to last seasons league position

1. Al-Rayyan

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Manager: Jorge Fossati

2016/17 Predicted Position: 4th

Key Signing: none – Whether due to financial constraints or just because of complete satisfaction with the current lot, Al-Rayyan have not made a key signing this summer. They did sign experienced full back Musaab Mahmoud but he is unlikely to make a crucial impact. Lying ahead is a season in which they also have to deal with Asian commitments: not strengthening the squad further may come to haunt them. Retaining their fine set of foreigners may be a good move. However, Al-Rayyan have also loaned out six Qatari players while selling two others, raising concerns about squad depth.

Key Player: Rodrigo Tabata – Who else can we expect? Tabata has donned the mantle of “captain, leader and legend” for the red-and-black brigade for quite some time now. The naturalized Qatari led from the front in 2015/16, scoring 21 times in the league and finishing as joint top scorer. It was incredible that this was a 35-year old veteran. That raises the question: how much longer can Al-Rayyan continue to depend on Tabata?

Why should I follow them? If there was a superclub in Qatar, it would be Al-Rayyan – and that label would come solely courtesy of the massive popularity that it enjoys among the locals. The fans come from all sections of the society and even when the club was relegated in 2014, it did no harm to its image. After winning promotion back at the first attempt, Al-Rayyan romped to victory in the QSL in the very first season back in the big league. It was a triumph driven by the careful selection of foreign and naturalized players, in addition to the intelligent mind of coach Fossati but you can’t ignore the droves of fans who kept pushing the team forward.

Stadium: Jassim bin Hamad Stadium (sharing with Al-Sadd)


2. El-Jaish

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Manager: Sabri Lamouchi

2016/17 predicted position: 2nd

Key Signing: Seydou Keita – The two-time UEFA Champions League winner arrived at El-Jaish in the summer as a replacement for the foreigner spot left void by Abderrazak Hamdallah’s injury. His experience and quality was made clear when he helped El-Jaish in his very first assignment – take them to the Champions League semifinals. A full league campaign is another prospect for the 36-year old. It is not even clear if Keita will play the whole season as he is on a six-month contract. But whenever he is playing, expect him to mean business.

Key Player: Romarinho – El-Jaish were left with a huge problem when their star striker and 2016 QSL joint top-scorer Hamdallah injured himself in the run up to the new season. The Moroccan will be absent for a two-month period during which his Brazilian strike partner, Romarinho, will have to step up and take over the scoring responsibilities. Romarinho is not short of talent, although he is more of a creative genius rather than a number nine like Hamdallah. Coupled with Uzbek star Sardor Rashidov, he will be more than a handful for opposing defences.

Why should I follow them: Ever since getting promoted to the QSL, the Army-backed El-Jaish have fielded teams that play attractive football and are full of strength in all departments. Somehow, they have failed to claim that elusive league title. If two Qatar Cup titles and a runners-up finish in the Emir Cup last year are not enough to show their quality, then their run to the AFC Champions League semifinals removes all doubts. 2016/17 may just be the season they finally step up and win a first-ever league title.

Stadium: Abdulla bin Khalifa Stadum (sharing with Lekhwiya)


3. Al-Sadd

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Manager: Jesualdo Ferreira

2016/17 predicted position: 3rd

Key Signing: Jugurtha Hamroun – Al-Sadd’s replacement for long-serving fan favourite Nadir Belhadj was another Algerian player. A left sided attacking midfielder, Jugurtha Hamroun arrived from Steaua Bucharest on a loan deal that could be made permanent. Al-Sadd has missed the kind of potency that Hamroun can offer from the left, ever since the worrying decline of Khalfan Ibrahim and Belhadj began. They now have that issue sorted.

Key Player: Xavi – The Spanish maestro’s first season with Al-Sadd was not as great as many expected it to be. Al-Sadd could only finish third in the league while losing in the Super Cup and Emir Cup final. There was criticism from some quarters but it could be argued that Xavi did his bit to perfection, if not coming close to it. He delivered 22 assists in the league and Al-Sadd’s problems had more to do with not recruiting properly in the summer of 2015. In January, when Al-Sadd finally got a proper striker up front in the shape of Baghdad Bounedjah, they looked much sharper and Xavi was seen to link up well with him. If that continues in the new season, Xavi can finally have a title or two to show for his efforts.

Why should I follow them: Al-Sadd is Qatar’s most successful club in terms of titles, both at home and abroad. When it comes to pedigree, they have few competitors in the region. However, the two-time Asian champions have not won the league since 2013, after being upstaged by the star-studded Lekhwiya and a resurgent Rayyan. Although they have not fallen outside the top four, Al-Sadd don’t carry themselves with the same swagger as they once did. But it should be said that they have all the ingredients in place for a return to the podium. Alongside Xavi and sharpshooter Bounedjah, they also have Qatar captain Hassan Al-Haydos and rising left-back Abdelkarim Hassan. No room for excuses!

Stadium: Jassim bin Hamad Stadium


4. Lekhwiya

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Manager: Djamel Belmadi

2016/17 predicted position:  1st

Key Signing: Youssef El Arabi – After the failure of two-time QSL top scorer Dioko to make a name for himself at Lekhwiya, his place has been now taken by another African player. Youssef El-Arabi has prior experience in the region, having played for Saudi giants Al-Hilal in 2011-12. He then moved to La Liga, where he scored 45 goals in 134 appearances for Granada. Can he now produce the goods for Lekhwiya?

Key Player: Nam Tae Hee – Having arrived at Lekhwiya in late 2011, attacking midfielder Nam Tae Hee has established himself as an undisputed asset for the QSL with his displays. Currently among the longest-serving foreign players in the league, this genius of a player was arguably the prime catalyst that led to Lekhwiya’s domination in the past five years. Nam has come to forge a telepathic understanding with his teammates to pry open defences. Aged just 25, the Korean Messi (as he was called during his time at Valenciennes) still has a lot more to offer.

Why should I follow them: Ever since winning the league in their debut season in 2009-10, Lekhwiya have become the team everyone loves to hate. This is due to the fact that they are a newly formed team supported by the resources of the Ministry of Interior and that their native fan following is almost non-existent. Lekhwiya have bulldozed their way to the top of the Qatari game by buying the best foreigners money can get and then making use of a clever naturalization policy. When you ignore all the hate that is spewed against them, you cannot help but admit that Lekhwiya are a class apart from the rest of the league. 2015-16 saw them fall to an uncharacteristic fourth place after a season riddled with controversies. If they can keep those issues behind them, they are a safe bet for the title.

Stadium: Abdulla bin Khalifa Stadium


5. Umm Salal

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Manager: Bulent Uygun

2016/17 predicted position: 6th

Key Signing: Anderson Martins – Once the immovable rock at the heart of the El-Jaish defence, where he was acclaimed as one of the league’s best, Anderson’s star has now faded. He moved to Al-Gharafa in 2015 and after a listless season with the Cheetahs, finds himself at Umm Salal. At his best, he was brilliant and if he can return to that kind of form, Umm Salal could be a difficult team to deal with.

Key Player: Yannick Sagbo – The former Hull City man scored 14 times as Umm Salal finished fifth in 2015/16 but will need to improve on that. Last season saw the Ivorian score 10 times in the first half of the season before declining a little in the second half. Umm Salal will need him to be at his best on a consistent basis if they are to break in to the top four.

Why should I follow them: The original hipster team of the QSL, Umm Salal followed up promotion in 2006 by stunning Qatar and Asia with a likeable motley crew of veterans and relatively unknown players. After finishing in the top 4 twice in succession, Umm Salal went on to win the Emir Cup before going on to reach the AFC Champions League semifinals in 2009. They haven’t reached similar heights since then. However, Turkish coach Bulent Uygun has been gradually improving the team ever since joining in 2013. The Barzan Falcons finished 6th in 2015 and 5th in 2016, so the obvious question is: will they now break into the top four?

Stadium: Suhaim bin Hamad Stadium (sharing with QatarGas League side Qatar SC)


6. Al-Ahli

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Manager: Luka Bonačić

2016/17 predicted position: 7th

Key Signing: Kisito Yessoh – Al-Ahli made a number of key signings during the transfer window, including the surprise arrival of yesteryear stars Hussain Yasser and Mohammed Sayed Adnan. However, the one signing that could turn out to be a gamechanger is Kisito Yessoh. The 24-year old striker was one of the revelations of the Ivorian league in 2015/16, finishing as league top scorer and beating the club record previously held by Seydou Doumbia. His signing is a gamble but Al-Ahli have gambled like this previously when they signed Alain Dioko. Everyone knows what happened next!

Key Player: Meshaal Abdullah – Talismanic may be an understatement when describing the effect Meshaal Abdullah has on his team. Last year’s club top scorer with 17 goals, the Al-Ahli captain reminds observers of Raul Gonzalez – despite not being the best technically, his workrate and determination are exemplary. The 32-year old Meshaal does the captain’s role to perfection, pushing the team forward while leading with his performances. His longevity has made him one of the enduring star names of the QSL, a competition in which he has scored a century of goals.

Why should I follow them: Al-Ahli have the honour of being the oldest club still in existence in Qatar and sadly for them, it remains one of their few honours. Granted they have won four Emir Cup titles, but the last of them came in 1992 during the days they were captained by Qatari star Adel Malallah. Nowadays, Al-Ahli are a different team but despite not winning titles, their spirited counter-attacking style of football is one that is exciting to the eye. They are also at the forefront in building relationships with the expat communities in Qatar, with Nepali and Filipino residents forming the bulk of their attendances at many matches.

Stadium: Hamad bin Khalifa Stadium


7. Al-Sailiya

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Manager: Sami Trabelsi

2016/17 predicted position: 9th

Key Signing: Paul Efoulo – Al-Sailiya did well to snap up Cameroonian striker Paul Efoulo from Saudi side Al-Taawon, who he had helped get to an AFC Champions League playoff. Efoulo scored 10 goals and assisted 7 more last season for Al-Taawon. Al-Sailiya will be hoping he replicates that form and helps his new side emulate Al-Taawon.

Key Player: Faouzi Ayesh – Faouzi Ayesh has been instrumental in the growth of Al-Sailiya in the six years he has spent with them and it was no surprise when he was handed the captain’s armband. He has played the captain’s role to near perfection, although a fiery tendency to pick up bookings could hurt him. Last season saw the Bahraini set-piece specialist score 14 times for Al-Sailiya – his best tally so far.

Why should I follow them: During the 2000s, Al-Sailiya were in serious danger of being branded a yo-yo club. They were relegated and promoted thrice each in this period and easily became a punching bag for the bigger teams. With the arrival of Sami Trabelsi as manager in 2013, things started to change. The Tunisian slowly worked his magic with the team and in the very first season, led the team to a shock fourth place finish in the league and an Emir Cup runners-up place. During Trabelsi’s stint as gaffer, Al-Sailiya have shed their tag of minnows and have become a force to reckon with.

Stadium: Hamad bin Khalifa Stadium (sharing with Al-Ahli)


8. Al-Arabi

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Manager: Gerardo Pelusso

2016/17 predicted position: 5th

Key Signing: Luis Jimenez – The signing of Jimenez was a very protracted affair. Firstly, the registration of the new foreigners (also including Moustapha Sall and Imoh Ezekiel) had been delayed due to unresovled payment issues with last season’s players. There was also the question of Jimenez’s Chilean/Palestinian nationality. Nobody wanted to end up like Emirati side Al-Nasr (Jimenez’s former team) who suffered badly due to Wanderley’s (coincidentally a former Al-Arabi player!) suspension on passport forgery charges. However, the Al-Arabi management now contend that all the paperwork and related hassles have been completed and Jimenez will now wear the Al-Arabi shirt. The former Inter Milan and Fiorentina midfielder now needs to repay the trust put in him.

Key Player: Khoukhi Boualem – It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Arabi fans to ask for 11 Khoukhis in 11 positions. Or maybe 10, because apart from wearing the keeper’s gloves, the Algerian-born captain of the Dream Team seems to be able to do everything. Although he does best as a wide attacker or in midfield, Khoukhi has been called upon to man the defence and he has done it too. But despite his best efforts, success hasn’t come Al-Arabi’s way. Every season, questions of “will he stay or will he go” are thrown around by the media. It has been the same this year and if Al-Arabi fail to win a title this year, Khoukhi may no longer be the club icon that he is right now.

Why should I follow them: Perennial underachievers – that’s by far the most appropriate tag one could give to Qatar’s “Club of the Century.” After dominating the country’s football scene in the 80s and 90s, Al-Arabi haven’t won a major title since 1997. As the team’s fortunes dwindle, so have the number of fans in the stands. As every season starts, hashtags and photos resurface, predicting an Arabi resurgence that never materializes. This season’s squad is undoubtedly strong but will Al-Arabi do what they do best and falter once again?

Stadium: Grand Hamad Stadium


9. Al-Gharafa

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Manager: Pedro Caixinha

2016/17 predicted position: 8th

Key Signing: Han Kook Young – This quiet and unassuming Korean midfielder was one of the best performers for Qatar SC during the last two seasons. His quality was evident and when Qatar got relegated last season, Al-Gharafa quickly snapped up his services. Han will add solidity and discipline to the Al-Gharafa midfield, helping Abdulaziz Hatem move further up the pitch.

Key Player: Vladimir Weiss – Dribbling wizard Weiss was one of the stars of the QSL during his time at Lekhwiya and it was a surprise to many when midway through last season, he was sold to Al-Gharafa in a deal that saw Alain Dioko go the other way. Even with all his talent, the Slovak winger could not help his new team to a top four place but this time around, he is out to make amends. The past summer saw Weiss play for his country at Euro 2016, where he scored a goal. In the process he became the first QSL player to score at the European Championships, and showed the world a bit of the quality on display in Qatar.

Why should I follow them: They may not seem like it anymore, but Al-Gharafa were once one of the most entertaining teams in Qatar and the Gulf. Not only did their kit resemble Brazil’s but so did their playing style. But those are all stories of days gone by. No longer do they roll out perfect swashbuckling teams with the likes of Juninho, Younis Mahmoud, Clemerson and Othman El Assas orchestrating the opera. The fans have enough reason to be unhappy as the Cheetahs have only won an Emir Cup title since completing a hat-trick of league titles in 2010. The power structure of Qatari football has changed since then and if Al-Gharafa can engineer a remarkable comeback to prominence, it will be one of their greatest achievements ever.

Stadium: Thani bin Jassim Stadium


10. Al-Khor

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Manager: Jean Fernandez

2016/17 predicted position: 10th

Key Signing: Mouhcine Iajour – 2013 FIFA Club World Cup Bronze Ball winner Iajour could be one of the most important recent signings for Al-Khor if he can put his scoring boots on. Last year, the Moroccan failed to sparkle for Qatar SC before moving to Al-Ahli in the winter and getting back among the goals, helping secure a sixth place finish. It is the latter form that Al-Khor require if they are to survive this season’s impending relegation scramble.

Key Player: Madson – Madson is yet another player in the long line of diminutive Brazilian geniuses and he has carried the Al-Khor team in the last four years. The 5′ 3″ midfielder is hugely influential and is a delight to watch as he dictates play and creates chances. He was the only foreigner retained by Al-Khor after last season.

Why should I follow them: If you like the mid-table minnows who always manage to escape relegation, then this is your team. The team from the north of Qatar have a decent defensive record (the third-best in the league in 2015/16) but they have struggled in the goals department. Gone are the days when you could call upon Younis Mahmoud to score aplenty and even win you a title. That said, things could improve with the coming of Morccoan striker Mouhcine Iajour.

Stadium: Al-Khor Stadium


11. Al-Wakrah

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Manager: Mauricio Larriera

2016/17 predicted position: 12th

Key Signing: Pablo Zeballos –  From one Latin American striker to another – it would be easy to describe Pablo Oliviera replacing Sebastian ‘Sasha’ Saez as such. But even Zeballos knows that how difficult it is to replace Sasha, the Argentine striker who finished as club top scorer for each of three seasons he spent there. In 2015/16, it was Sasha who almost single-handedly managed to keep Al-Wakrah in the QSL, before leaving the club for the UAE. Former Paraguayan Footballer of the Year Zeballos has his task cut out to try and emulate Sasha.

Key Player: Mouhcine Moutouali – This Moroccan midfielder is highly talented, so much so that one could feel he deserves to shine at a better team than Al-Wakrah. But for the time being, Moutouali remains with the Blue Wave and will be the creator-in-chief and the go-to man in times of trouble. He is a popular player back home with his childhood team Raja Casablanca, having starred for them in six seasons in two separate stints and has been selected as Player of the Year thrice.

Why should I follow them: Al-Wakrah are like Al-Khor in terms of their recent league showings. However, they have an even greater history to look on, having won two league titles at the turn of the millennium. But with a series of ineffective signings, alongside a lack of a strong Qatari backbone, mean that Al-Wakrah remain steeped in mediocrity. 2016/17 will be a monumental season for the once-proud champions as they seek to avoid an embarrassing drop to the second tier.

Stadium: Saoud bin Abdulrahman Stadium


12. Al-Kharaitiyat

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Manager: Amar Osim

2016/17 predicted position: 11th

Key Signing: Driss Fettouhi – After the depature of Yahia Kebe, the task of inspiring the team to victory now falls to the shoulders of new Moroccan signing Driss Fettouhi. The 26-year old comes to Al-Kharaitiyat on the back of three years spent in the UAE, where he starred for Ajman.

Key Player: Jarallah Al-Marri – Jarallah used to be the darling of the Al-Rayyan fans – a homegrown player coming through the youth system and popping up to score some crucial goals. However, as time passed, he has become surplus to requirements to the Lions and finds himself back at Al-Kharaitiyat, where he spent two successful stints on loan. He will be hoping to get back to scoring form and show what he is capable of.

Why should I follow them: The only special thing them about Al-Kharaitiyat is that there is nothing special about them. That may sound weird, but that is a fact. They don’t have a glorious history; nor do they have a fanbase. They are neither top dogs who gun for the title nor minnows who yo-yo between the divisions. In fact, apart from winning the second division title in 2004, their only remarkable achievement so far could be managing to stay in the top tier for so long. If that is a quality you like, then Al-Kharaitiyat is the team for you!

Stadium: Al-Khor Stadium (sharing with Al-Khor)


13. Muaither 

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Manager: Philippe Burle

2016/17 predicted position: 13th

Key Signing: Bruno Aguiar – It has become normal for the promoted newcomers to become the whipping boys of the league. Brazilian centre back Bruno Aguiar will try to stop that happening to Muaither by marshalling their defence against the top strikers of the QSL. Aguiar won the Copa Libertadores during his time with Sao Paulo and he will look to call upon all that experience in what is his first foray outside of his home country.

Key Player: Mahmoud Za’tara – The Jordanian striker finished as top scorer as the Eagles won the QatarGas League title and returned to the top division of Qatari football. Although Omani midfielder Ahmed Kano and French attacker Jeremie Aliadiere were also key members of the promotion campaign, only Za’tara was retained.

Why should I follow them: Muaither impressed greatly in the second tier last season but the QSL is obviously going to be a tough affair for them. However, they have brought in some experienced local players, such as Adel Lamy, Mohammed Yasser, Basel Samih and Shaheen Ali, in addition to promising youngsters like Huthaifa Al-Salemi and Nasser Al-Nasr. Will it be enough to finish above the bottom four?

Stadium: Thani bin Jassim Stadium (sharing with Al-Gharafa)


14. Al-Shahania

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Manager: Fathi Al-Jabal

2016/17 predicted position: 14th

Key Signing: Kaled Gourmi – Gourmi is the player tasked with doing what even Iranian star Masoud Shojaei couldn’t – inspire the team from midfield and keep Al-Shahania in the Qatar Stars League. The task gets tougher for Gourmi considering the fact that upto four teams could get relegated this season. The French-born Algerian will have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

Key Player: Alvaro Mejia – Al-Shahania may be an unknown club for most football fans, but in Alvaro Mejia, they have a player who has appeared for one of the biggest clubs in the world. After graduating from the Real Madrid academy, Mejia played 57 games for Los Blancos during the Galacticos era before leaving to become a footballing journeyman. He went on to play for clubs in Spain, Turkey, France and Greece prior to landing in Qatar in 2014 to sign for Al-Shahania. Now aged 34, Mejia stayed on with the club after they were relegated and has now helped them win promotion.

Why should I follow them: Although, they seem to have ‘to be relegated‘, written all over them (no offence to any Al-Shahania fan), this could be the club for the hipster in you. For one thing, they have a former Real Madrid player in their ranks. And even better, Fahad Khalfan is back with them. Watch this to know what he is capable of. Finally, the optimist in you will feel that Fathi Al-Jabal is the perfect man for the unenviable job of keeping the Oryxes in the QSL. The Tunisian is the coach who led Al-Fateh to the Saudi top tier, before taking them to uncharted territory and winning the league title in 2014. Who’s up for an encore?

Stadium: Grand Hamad Stadium (sharing with Al-Arabi)

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