Al Sadd sink Al Nassr to storm into AFC Champions League semifinal
Afif, Haydos and Bounedjah on target as Xavi’s men stage splendid turnaround to post 4-3 aggregate victory.
Long after the final whistle was blown, the air of celebration lingered at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium. For the 13,000 Al Sadd fans who filled the stands, it was indeed a memorable night. Their team, under pressure following the first-leg away defeat, turned it around superbly in the second leg to defeat a tough rival and win a spot in the semifinal of the AFC Champions League.
Call it home advantage or what you will, it was remarkable the way in which Sadd shaped a reversal of fortunes to nullify the 1-2 scoreline from the quarterfinal first leg against Saudi Arabian challengers Al Nassr. With the fans backing them to the hilt, Sadd won the second leg by a facile 3-1 margin, moving into the last four with a 4-3 aggregate scoreline.
In a performance that stayed true to coach Xavi Hernandez’s methods, Sadd dominated possession and struck at the right times to spoil Al Nassr plans. But the blow that broke the visitors’ resistance came off a penalty with the scoret 2-1 in Sadd’s favour. Akram Afif, who darted into the penalty area in the 78th minute, was tripped by Nassr defender Abdullah Madu and referee Dilan Perera of Sri Lanka awarded a penalty. Baghdad Bounedjah converted it in clinical fashion to give his side a 3-1 lead that proved decisive in the end.
After the first leg defeat, Xavi had wanted his men to control the play more and that is what they did on this day. Sadd were also helped by the fact that Nassr preferred to sit back and play the waiting game, in contrast to the aggressive approach they had adopted in Riyadh. The counter-attacking ploy backfired, leaving the Sadd supporters a delighted bunch.
The home team first had to neutralise Nassr’s first-leg lead. They did that after Hassan Al Haydos and Bounedjah had missed a couple of chances early on. Nam Tae-Hee, playing his best game since moving to Sadd from Duhail, found Afif with a cross from the left in the 27th minute and the midfielder headed it into an empty goal, with the Nassr defence caught completely off-guard.
However, Sadd joy was short lived as Nassr drew level six minutes later. The home side conceded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area when Tariq Salman committed a foul on Abderrazak Hamedallah.
Al Nassr’s Brazilian striker Giuliano Victor de Paula and Hamdellah both lined up to take the kick. But the former’s dummy run created some disarray in the Sadd defence and as luck would have it the latter’s shot took a lucky deflection off the wall and went in to make it 1-1.
Undeterred, Sadd maintained their dominance and enjoyed a major share of possession. And Al Haydos produced a gem of a goal to regain the lead in the 59thminute. After exchanging passes with Nam, the Qatar captain unleashed a furious drive from 25 yards out, beating goalkeeper Brad Jones all ends up.
Giuliano and Hamedallah had opportunities to get Nassr back into the game, but both faltered in front of the goal. At the other end, mounting pressure from the Sadd attacks finally had an effect as Afif’ss tricks proved more than a handful for the visitors. With the advantage very much with them, Sadd then closed out the game with that 78th minute penalty.
Xavi was all praise for his players for executing his plans perfectly.
“We played well. Perhaps, this was our best match so far this season. The players executed my plans almost flawlessly,” said Xavi.
Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria blamed the referee for his side’s defeat.
“The penalty was the turning point. Little things make a difference in games like these. I congratulate Al Sadd, but the referee wasn’t the best one for this game,” fumed Vitoria.
Sadd will meet the winners of Tuesday’s all-Saudi quarterfinal between Al Hilal and Al Ittihad in the semifinal, with the first leg at home on October 1.