Defending champions Al Arabi Club and Al Rayyan Club have assembled attractive line-ups in a bid to win the premier volleyball championship of Qatar the Emir Cup.
The Qatar Volleyball Association has placed a big prize money on offer in the final at the Al Arabi Club Indoor Hall on Saturday at 6.30 pm. The winners take home QR1 million, while the runners-up will be richer by QR550,000.
The match promises to be a thriller as the teams are a mix of youth and experience.
For the latest round of battle for the prestige, holders Al Arabi have landed Bulgarian Nikolay Uchikov, who just replaced Polish player Mariusz Wlazly in the team. Former Trentino star Juantorena Osmany joined them for the Emir Cup.
Uchikov has recently played for UPCN, who defeated Bolivar in front of a 7,000-strong crowd in the Argentina league final. He was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the championship as well. Uchikov has also played in Doha before for Trentino during the FIVB Clubs World Championship.
Al Rayyan have hired Italian star Cristian Savani, a strong server who led Italy to the Olympic Games silver and bronze medals in 2004 and 2012. They have also roped in Wilfredo Leon Venero, one of the best outside hitters in the world. He substituted Jan Stokr who played for the club in the Qatar Cup.
Venero is a 21-year-old Cuban sensation who helped Russian team Zenit Kazan to the European Clubs Championship this season. He is also a silver medallist in the 2010 World Championships in Italy.
This is the 15th Emir Cup final between the two teams. Al Arabi have the edge as they have won the title 20 times, including 10 finals against Al Rayyan.
On the other hand, Al Rayyan have appeared in 23 finals before and have won on 11 occasions. In the last five finals between them, Al Rayyan have enjoyed a slight edge of 3-2.
At a pre-final conference, both the teams expressed confidence and readiness to take on each other. Also present on the occasion were QVA Executive Director Ahmed al Shabani and QVA Technical Director Hussein Imam Ali, along with the members of the contesting clubs.
Apart from Al Arabi coach Ljubomir Travica, Uchikov, their manager Mohamed Jassim al Kuwari, captain Juma Faraj and Omar Ali attended the event.
Al Rayyan were represented by their coach Daniele Bagnoli, manager Nasser al Malki, Savani, Venero and captain Usman Ajab.
Al Rayyan coach Bagnoli said he relished challenge of using different players that the club provided during the season.”Of course, it is difficult to find a good balance. If we have the players full time, it can make the job easy.
“But the players who are here are high level professionals. So it is very exciting for me to work with them and get the best out of them,” added Bagnoli.
Al Arabi coach Travica said he also had to deal with situation as well.”I also feel the same as Bagnoli. The pressure to perform is definitely there. The last four matches were really tough for us. But as a coach, we’ve to find the solutions.”
Travica also said of the upcoming match,”It is no doubt going to be a difficult match. Everybody is ready, though we had to play one more match in the semi-final playoffs compared to Al Rayyan.
“All my players will fight hard, despite being a bit tired and I hope the better team wins the title,” he added.
Bagnoli said,”The Qatar volleyball is catching the attention of the entire world. I see the comments from lot of players in the social media and it shows how much interest people are taking in the Qatar volleyball, which, I feel, is good for its future as well.
“I’m sure the final would be hard and contesting. We’re more than ready and hungry than Al Arabi as we had lost the Qatar Cup to them. We’ll try to put in our best tomorrow,” he added.
The 2014-15 season has been good for Al Arabi, though they had narrowly lost the League crown to Al Rayyan. Till now, Al Arabi have claimed three titles and two of them at the expense of Al Rayyan the newly-introduced Super Cup and Qatar Cup.
Al Arabi’s third title of the season was Federation Cup, which they won by beating double winners El Jaish.
Al Rayyan bagged the QVA League crown, recovering from two successive losses. But their bigger accolade came when they clinched the prestigious GCC Clubs Championship in Saudi Arabia earlier in the year.
Both teams are in strong shape and given the players the two teams have, it is surely going to be one of the best finals for many years.