Al Riyadi, Sagesse add more color to Beirut Derby with crucial Final 8 bout

DOHA (Qatar) - Al Riyadi are coming into the FIBA WASL Final 8 2024 with grand ambitions, but it isn't lost on each and every one on the team that the road to success won't be smooth.

The reigning two-time West Asia League champions are keen on topping Group A although head coach Ahmad Farran himself acknowledges at the same time that they are part of the "toughest group of the tournament," given the pedigree of the three other ball clubs.

"Hopefully, we can win and finish first. Our target is to finish first in our group. It's the toughest group of the tournament. I think four big teams are competing for two spots," he said.

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They aced their first assignment, though, by rolling past BC Astana, 110-69, at the Lusail Multipurpose Hall on Sunday night in a rematch of the Third-Place Game of last year's Final 8 in Dubai, moving just two wins away from reaching their first goal in the tilt.

But it's easier said than done. Their next opponent is someone they are so familiar with, someone who knows the Yellow Castle very much like the back of their hand: Sagesse SC.

The famed Beirut Derby is indeed coming to this sprawling Qatari city in yet another chapter of a long-standing rivalry between two of the biggest Lebanese clubs, set at 21:00 local time.

The mental edge is on Farran and Co. heading into this highly-anticipated collision, having beaten their counterparts in the recent 2023-24 Snips Lebanese Basketball Championship best-of-7 Finals by way of a gentleman's sweep, 4-1, for a successful title defense.

It was yet another playoff victory for Al Riyadi after beating that same team in the West Asia League Semi-Finals in a best-of-3 series that went to a sudden death.

All those losses have left a bitter taste in the mouths of Coach Jad El Hajj and the Green Castle, and that is why all of them are hungry to do better in the pan-regional contest.

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"It could have been a better result," said El Hajj, referring to their Finals loss that saw Game 5 end lopsidedly, 113-97. "We lost 4-1. In my opinion, we deserve one more win, at least."

"Because we lost Game Four and Five in the last few minutes. At the end, 4-1 for Riyadi, they deserve the championship," he added. "Hopefully, we get a better result here."

Monday night's clash won't be a playoff meeting but it would be crucial for both teams. Presently, they share the Group A leadership with identical 1-0 records.

Before Al Riyadi's conquest of the Central Asia representatives, Sagesse were actually the first to snare pole position of the pool following a 95-82 stunner of defending champions Manama last Saturday in undeniably a huge morale-booster heading into the Derby.

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So, that makes their game a meeting for the solo lead in the group, and that alone should generate a playoff-like atmosphere in one of the Final 8 2024's marquee match-ups.

"It was very important that we  started with a win. Because we are facing a local opponent, and, always, our games are tense. So we're going into that game with no pressure. We have a win in our pocket, and we go to play for everything against Sagesse," said Farran.

"We respect everyone. We have nothing to lose," said El Hajj, on the other hand. "We're gonna give our best."



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