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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Al Sadd feel the heat as mental fatigue hits players

Xavi Hernandez says consecutive games with club and country have taken their toll on the team.
Xavi
Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez looks dejected as his players struggle through their game against Qatar Sports Club. Photo: Al Sadd/ Twitter

Al Sadd Sports Club’s greatest strength is fast turning out to be their biggest weakness as they struggle to mount a serious challenge in the ongoing Qatar Stars League (QSL).

Sadd had built a strong record through exemplary performances from their national team players, but weariness seems to have caught up with the stars. They have looked jaded and out of ideas in the last couple of games, badly hitting their campaign.

Sadd’s latest match ended in another demoralising defeat on Saturday, with Qatar Sports Club handing the defending champions a 3-0 drubbing at the Al Gharafa Stadium.

It was their third defeat in eight matches, leaving the fans disappointed and frustrated. There was no life in their play, and their attacks lacked purpose, while the wobbly defence fell apart against Qatar’s offensives.

Coach Xavi Hernandez, under pressure after the poor show, zoomed in on the issue at the post-match Press conference.

“We’ve a good team and players of the highest calibre, but they’re exhausted because of the consecutive games with the club and the national team. The fatigue is psychological and not technical,” he said.

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Qatar Sports Club players and officials celebrate their success against Al Sadd. Photo: QSL Media

Xavi was spot on with his reasoning. The Sadd squad boasts of eight national team players who have been vital in the club’s surge in QSL and the AFC Champions League. On top of club engagements, they have also been on duty for the national team, with the Asian Cup/World Cup qualifying rounds kicking off last month.

The busy schedule seems to have taken a heavy toll on the players. They gave an almighty effort in the AFC Champions League second leg semifinal against Al Hilal, almost overturning a 1-4 deficit before bowing out with a 5-6 defeat. The current team in the QSL is but a pale shadow of the fighters who returned from Riyadh with their pride intact.

On Saturday, they almost sleepwalked through the first half against Qatar SC, a team that until recently were struggling to find their first win. Though they displayed more desire in the second half, they were just not there in terms of match sharpness.

“I’m very disappointed and frustrated to lose. We had a terrible first half, and in the second, we fought to the end but didn’t succeed in scoring,” Xavi said.

At half-time, as Sadd stuttered along, many frustrated fans shouted for the coach to be sacked. Asked whether he feared dismissal, Xavi replied in the negative.

“I’m not afraid of dismissal. I’m confident that my team will bounce back. But the defeatist mentality is unacceptable. We must return strongly and play as we did at the start of the season,” said the Spanish legend.

The QSL takes a break with Duhail SC comfortably on top with 26 points, followed by Al Rayyan (22) and Al Gharafa (20). Sadd, in fourth place, have 15 points, but also have two games on hand. While other teams have the chance to prepare in earnest for a strong return, Xavi must wait as Qatar play an Asian Cup qualifying match against Afghanistan on November 19, followed by the Arabian Gulf Cup (November 24 to December 6) in Doha.

“I hope the players return without injury so that we can prepare for the next stage,” said Xavi.

Next stage for Sadd will be the Club World Cup in Doha, starting on December 11. Beyond that lies Sadd’s real challenge – bouncing back into contention in the QSL when it resumes at the end of December. How fresh the players are after these engagements remains to be seen. Perhaps, by then, the out-of-favour Abdelkarim Hassan would also return, adding the much-needed strength to their defence and desire.