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Al Sadd need a miracle to make the final

Trailing 1-4 after the first leg, Qatar champions have a long way to go against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal on Tuesday.
Al Sadd Players Arrive In Riyadh For The Afc Champions League Second Leg Semifinal Against Al Hilal
Al Sadd players arrive in Riyadh for the AFC Champions League second-leg semifinal against Al Hilal. Photo: Al Sadd/Twitter

Al Sadd’s AFC Champions League aspirations hang by the slenderest of threads as they meet Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the second-leg semifinal at the King Saud University ground in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Down 1-4 after the first leg at home, only a miracle can take the Qatar champions to the final, past a team high on confidence and playing in their backyard.

Teams have overcome big first-leg deficits to come out victorious in the past, but Sadd’s situation goes beyond the three goals they have to make up. Xavi Hernandez’s men will be without two key players – defender Abdelkarim Hassan and striker Baghdad Bounedjah – making their task close to impossible.

While Sadd will have to be constantly on the lookout for goals, Hilal can afford to play at their pace, aware that they will make the final for the third time in six years but for any misadventures.

It was Hassan’s indiscretion that landed Sadd in such a spot earlier this month. He invited trouble in the first leg, arguing with the referee and getting a red card that completely turned the game around.

Al Sadd Coach Xavi Hernandez
Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

From 1-1 at that point, Sadd slipped rapidly to be at the end of a demoralising scoreline in front of their fans. Despite that Xavi put up a brave front – as a coach, he knows you cannot roll over and die, even when you are 1-4 down.

“It’s a bad result, but we’ll not give up in the second leg. It’s not over yet and who knows, they may face the same situation in the next game,” Xavi had said after the first leg. “There’s another half to this tie, with 90 minutes remaining and we’re going to give our best effort to get the win.”

Xavi is in a scenario where he has to find that delicate balance between attack and defence. An eagerness to press too hard, in search of goals to bridge the gap, could be an invitation for disaster.

Hilal, who are on top of the Saudi Pro League, have potent weapons in the likes of Bafetimbi Gomes and Ali Al Bulayhi who can really stretch the Sadd defence. Gomes, who scored two goals in the first leg, is the joint leading scorer with nine goals in the competition.

Sadd have let in eight goals in their last two matches, leaving out the Ooredoo Cup where their bench did the duty. It is a worrying statistic and shows that there is work to be done at the back if the Qatar outfit has bigger ambitions in Asia.

At the moment though, it is all about hoping against hope for Sadd – hoping Hassan Al Haydos and Akram Afif would get the goals and their defence would not let in any.

In the other semifinal on Wednesday, Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds are the favourites against Chinese club Gangzhou Evergrande. Urawa won the first leg 2-0 at Saitama, Japan.

It Was Defender Abdelkarim Hassan’s Indiscretion That Landed Al Sadd In Trouble In The First Leg Against Al Hilal
It was defender Abdelkarim Hassan’s indiscretion that landed Al Sadd in trouble in the first leg against Al Hilal. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran