It was a game worthy of being the final, says Xavi
Sadd coach praises his team’s character in semifinal defeat against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez endured an emotional roller-coaster ride on Tuesday as his team went out with all guns blazing in the second-leg semifinal of the AFC Champions League in Riyadh.
At the start of this month in Doha, frustration and despair were Xavi’s dominant feelings as Sadd lost the first leg 1-4. But as the Qatar champions fought till the final whistle, before going out 5-6 on aggregate despite a 4-2 win in the second leg, Xavi looked on with pride.
He had goaded his players on right through the night, after they recovered from a goal deficit to play one of their finest games in terms of attacking football. He shouted instructions, leapt up in joy, groaned in disappointment and as the dust settled after the tumultuous contest, summed it up as a match worthy of being the final.
“This game deserved to be the final, it’s a game to be cherished,” he said at the post-match press conference. “Both the teams played a great game.”
Fans and observers were unanimous with the view that the first-leg result – 4-1 in favour of Hilal – had decided the fate of the tie. Xavi agreed.
“The red card decided the tie,” the Spanish maestro said, referring to the first leg where his defender Abdelkarim Hassan was expelled before half-time, severely handicapping Sadd.
“The first leg result made things difficult for us, we tried to give our best but at times, luck also didn’t favour us.”
Sadd were in the match until the final moment, when Nam Tae-Hee’s free-kick was saved in the nick of time by Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayoof, confirming the Saudi team’s entry into the final. Nam had an outstanding match, scoring a goal and setting up several of Sadd’s moves. After switching over from Duhail this season, the South Korean had not really settled in, with an injury also troubling him, but on Tuesday, he was an unending source of energy.
That augurs well for Sadd, whose focus now turns to the Qatar Stars League, where they are the defending champions. Even as he praised his players for their gutsy show, Xavi said his team would correct their mistakes and move on.
“We must continue working and learn from our mistakes. This match showed that we’re a big team with character. We must learn the lessons for the next season,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hilal coach Razvan Lucescu felt his players had lost concentration after Sadd scored their first goal.
“We’d a great start. However, some players lost their concentration and this affected us. It was the same in the round of 16 match against Al Ahli,” Lucescu said. “Because of that concentration lapse, we conceded two quick goals. It happened towards the end of the match and we nearly lost all that we’d achieved.”
The Romanian felt Sadd became dangerous as they had nothing to lose.
“They had nothing to lose and they put us under a lot of pressure,” he said, and cautioned his players against repeating the mistakes.
“The final will be totally different from the semifinal as it will be harder in different aspects,” said Lucescu.
In the final next month, Hilal, runners-up in 2014 and 2017, will meet the winners of the second semifinal between China’s Guangzhou Evergrande and Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.