Doha (AFP) – They once played against each other in a World Cup final, but on Thursday night Wesley Sneijder and Xavi Hernandez met in the less grand surroundings of Qatar’s domestic league.
The clash — in a near-deserted stadium in a Doha suburb — between Sneijder’s Al Gharafa and Xavi’s Al Sadd was the first between two of the best midfielders of the past decade since the Dutchman’s recent move to Qatar.
Like the 2010 World Cup final, it was Xavi who emerged victorious.
Visitors Al Sadd dominated throughout, winning easily 4-0, Xavi even having time to receive on-field bumps from his teammates, to celebrate his 38th birthday.
But there was little else to compare from this fixture to the other high-octane meetings between the pair, which include a memorable 2010 Champions League semi-final and Holland’s 5-1 thrashing of Spain at the last World Cup.
By one calculation it was the ninth match the pair have played against each other, each now being on the winning side four times.
Despite the best efforts of league officials to drum up interest in the game, a sparse crowd of some 500 spectators turned up to watch the two players at the Thani bin Jassim Stadium — no doubt giving further ammunition to critics of the 2022 World Cup host over its passion for football.
Any lack of atmosphere from the stands was not helped by a game which took time to spring into life, with the notable act of the first half hour being a clever pass from Sneijder.
Al Sadd took the lead in the 33rd minute through striker Hamoun, who doubled the lead in first half injury time.
They had numerous chances in the second half to increase the lead, and settled for two late strikes from Qatari international, Hassan Al-Haydos.
Former Barcelona great Xavi, now in his third year in Qatar, went close with a free kick late on and looked the sharper of the two stars.
The victory keeps Al Sadd in second place, now a point behind league leaders Al-Duhail
It was Sneijder’s first taste of defeat since his move to the Gulf in his third match.
His Al Gharafa side are in sixth place in the league.
To add to the sense of anti-climax, Sneijder was substituted in the 63rd minute as his coach Bulent Uygun saved his star player for an upcoming cup match.