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His Majesty’s Cup Football final: Hajri is Dhofar’s hero

7 Mar 2021 By ASHOK PUROHIT

Less than 100 days since they lifted the previous title, defending champions Dhofar demonstrated their dominance in domestic football in no uncertain terms as they outplayed Al Suwaiq 5-1 in the final of the His Majesty’s Cup Football Championship to lift a record tenth crown at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex (SQSC) on Sunday night. 

The title-triumph for the Salalah heavyweights underlined their credentials as domestic giants as the club now boasts of record crowns won by a club in the top-flight league (11) and HM’s Cup (ten). 

And the hero of Dhofar’s historic victory on Sunday was striker Khalid al Hajri, who scored a treble in Suwaiq’s rout. 

Coached by former national team coach Rasheed Jaber, Dhofar have been unbeaten since their HM’s Cup title triumph last year on November 30 at the Al Rustaq Sports Complex. 

Going into the final, Dhofar held an advantage with their current form and a strong line-up as nine of their players have been called up for the national camp by Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic for the forthcoming trip to the UAE. 

The match was touted as a tactical battle between Jaber and former Iraq national team coach Hakeem Shaker of Iraq, who had led Al Suwaiq to their last HM’s Cup title win in 2017 against Dhofar. Jaber exacted sweet revenge for that title loss and this was the second occasion that Dhofar have won back-to-back HM’s Cup titles, the previous occasion being in 1980-81. 

With the final being played behind closed doors, there was not much fanfare to the sultanate’s coveted tournament and Dhofar did not take long to open their account. 

Suwaiq defenders, who had a torrid night, were at fault as a speedy run by Hajri saw the striker outmuscle his marker, Yousuf al Saadi, and smash home the first goal past the goalkeeper Mazin al Kasbi, who had a night to forget, in the 19th minute of the match. 

Stung by the early goal, Suwaiq displayed enterprise in their fight and were rewarded for their efforts in the 39th minute. A free-kick nearly 40 yards from the goal saw Suwaiq’s Yaseen al Sheyadi sent in a measured chip over the Dhofar wall to the far right corner of the box where captain Al Abd al Nofli crossed the ball to Omran al Heidi, who beat Dhofar goalie Faiz al Rusheidi. 

With the scores level, the match sprung into life with both teams opting for a more open play and this led to Dhofar taking the lead just minutes before the interval. 

A counter move had Dhofar’s Harib al Saadi relay a pass inside the box where Bikey Lawson’s diving header left Kasbi with no chance as the champions went into the break with a 2-1 lead.  

With Dhofar dominating ball possession, Suwaiq struggled to put up a fight in the post-interval session and then suffered Hajri’s double-blow. Moataz Saleh began the move and his lob had Hajri leap high and nod the ball under Kasbi’s right foot, who possibly could have been unsighted due to his teammate’s movement in the 62nd minute. 

Down 1-3, Suwaiq had a late push but Rusheidi’s brilliant save in the 77th minute kept Dhofar ahead and Hajri made it 4-1 with five minutes left with a stinging left-footer that crashed into the right corner of the net after substitute Yazid Salim orchestrated a defence-splitting pass. Another substitute, Yaseen al Sheikh, completed the rout in the injury-time of the match. 

Later, the chief guest, H E Sayyid Saud bin Hilal al Busaidi, Minister of State and Governor of Muscat, awarded the trophy to Dhofar captain Ali al Nahar in the presence of H H Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham al Said, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, H E Rashad al Hinai, Undersecretary at the sports ministry, Oman Football Association (OFA) chief Sheikh Salim al Wahaibi and other top officials. The winning club also received RO75,000 as prize money. 
 

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