Visit IAAF special preview page
Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
Visit IAAF special preview page
Visit IAAF special preview page

Al Sadd need to be on their toes against Al Hilal

Qatar champions face another tough battle against Saudi rivals in AFC Champions League.
Vino5917 1
Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez has a word with his players at a training session. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

It seems pretty long time ago that Al Sadd were in action, either in domestic football or on the continental stage. In reality, they last entered the field in a competitive fixture on September 24, winning their deferred third-round game 3-1 against Al Sailiya in the Qatar Stars League.

Qatar’s champions were then given a break as the QSL went through the fifth round, and a busy set of matches featuring other teams made it appear as if Sadd had been away for a long while. Rest, recuperation and preparation were the three goals for Xavi Hernandez’s men during the break, with an important game lined up on Tuesday.

Sadd will be taking on Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the first leg of the AFC Champions League semifinal at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, and all their focus will be on doing well at home before heading off to the second leg on October 22 in Riyadh.

Champions in 2011, Sadd made an exit at the semifinal stage in last season’s competition. Xavi has made it clear he wants the team to go all the way in the Champions League and as such, this home semifinal is a vital one for his men.

Home support played a small but important role in Sadd’s win over another Saudi Arabian team, Al Nassr, in the quarterfinal after they had lost the first leg in Riyadh. Fan support proved inspirational for Sadd as they rallied superbly to beat Nassr 4-3 on aggregate.

Al Hilal, who had won the Asian Club Championship two times (1992 and 2000) before the tournament was relaunched in 2002-03, are certain to offer a stiff challenge to Xavi’s team. Sadd, after their quarterfinal win, didn’t seem to have recovered their energy in the two matches they played in the QSL subsequently. But with a good break behind, they could be expected to play as a forceful unit on Tuesday.

Akram Afif and Hassan Al Haydos will once again hold the key to Sadd’s fortunes. Xavi relies on steady build-ups to launch their attacks and the two can break open the defence by their sudden, quick-passing routines at the top of the penalty area. Korean midfielder Nam Tae-Hee showed signs of returning to form in the last match and that is a heartening news for Sadd.

The Wolves will also welcome back defender Abdelkarim Hassan, who had missed the last match due to illness. Hassan’s overlapping runs and powerful presence in the defence is an asset for Sadd but on the minus-side, they will be without right-back Pedro, who is nursing an injury.

While possession will be at the core of Sadd’s play, it remains to be seen whether Hilal allow them to do so. The Saudi team would have learned a lesson or two from the way Al Nassr surrendered the advantage in the quarterfinal and would be trying to avoid falling in the same trap.

Hilal enjoy a 3-1 edge over Sadd in six Champions League meetings, with two games ending in draws. Mohammed Kanno is their main man in the midfield, possessing abilities to attack and defend in equal measure. Bafetimbi Gomis is their leading scorer with seven goals so far in the competition and the Sadd defenders will have to keep an eye on the striker. More than that, they will have to bring out their ‘A’ game out on Tuesday, just the way they did against Al Nassr, to be in a position of strength before the second leg.
In the second semifinal, Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds will take on China’s Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday.