Doha, Qatar: Mohsine Moutaouali and Nigel De Jong pulled the strings from the midfield as Al Ahli extended their unbeaten run in the QNB Stars League to eight matches with a 3-1 victory against Wesley Sneijder-led Al Gharafa on Thursday.
The victory, thanks to goals from Muhammed Muntari - who struck in the very first minute of the game - Abdelrhman Moustafa and De Jong, helped them provisionally move to third in the table with 26 points, while the defeat would be a bitter pill to swallow for Gharafa who now face an uphill battle to finish in the top four.
Gharafa are sixth with 18 points and coach Christian Gourcuff will be under increased pressure.
The Cheetahs were thrashed by Al Sadd 8-1 in their last game and they needed a strong start to give themselves some confidence.
But they were down by a goal after just 16 seconds into the match.
Mohammed Tresor’s long pass into the Gharafa half was just a hopeful delivery but three touches later the ball was in Gharafa net.
Omid Amir’s glancing header flicked Tresor’s floater into the path of Mohsine Moutaouali who squared it to Muhammed Muntari and the lanky striker expertly swept the ball past Youssef Hassan.
Gharafa had a chance for an immediate comeback when Sneijder threaded a fine through ball for Moyad Hassan, but the Gharafa winger’s shot was saved by an advancing Ahli goalkeeper Ivanildo Santos while Ahmed Alaaeldin’s follow up shot was also blocked.
Ahli constantly put Gharafa defence under pressure with long balls into the box aimed at Muntari.
But they relieved themselves of some of the pressure in the 38th minute, when Abdelaziz Hatem won a fifty-fifty ball in the midfield and found Moayad Hassan on the right flank, who in turn squared the ball into the box. Ahli defenders, who were back-tracking, failed to clear the ball and Amro Seraj was left with the easy task of slotting it into the empty net.
A few minutes later Gharafa missed a chance to take the lead when Alaaeldin, suddenly finding himself clear after a quick passing move also involving Wesley Sneijder, failed to beat Santos with his left-footer.
Ahli regained the lead in the 58th minute through Abdelrhman Moustafa with Moutaouali providing the killer pass yet again.
The Moroccan forward’s through ball split open the left side of Gharafa defence, which was their weak spot throughout the game, and Moustafa, who was clear, picked his spot at the far corner and beat Hassan with a firm shot.
Stung by the reversal, Gharafa brought in Vladimir Weiss and Mehdi Taremi in place of Moayad and Alaaeldin to bring about a change in the pattern on the game which, however, remained the same with Ahli proving to be the more dangerous side.
Gharafa defence continued to be fragile and Hassan twice had to come up with important saves to deny Meshaal Abdullah and to keep them in the game.
But he was helpless when Nigel De Gong bent his powerful long ranger into to corner in the 83rd minute.
Moutaouali was once again the provider, controlling the pace and flow of the game with his passes before picking an unmarked De Jong in the centre.
He had a chance to cap his wonderful show with a goal, but Hassan denied him that privilege.
It did not matter much as the game was well in their grasp by then.