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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Sadd find strength in Xavi’s ways as they reach semis

The Qatar champions took advantage of a tactical blunder by Al Nassr to dominate the second-leg quarterfinal at home.
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Al Sadd’s Abdelkarim Hassan parades the pride of the victorious side on Tuesday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Big teams deliver on big occasions. For Al Sadd, this was the occasion to stand up and be counted and their response was befitting of their status as the top club in Qatar.

In the second-leg quarterfinal of the AFC Champions League against Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, Sadd faced a hard task. They had to turn around a 1-2 deficit to keep alive their dreams of Asian glory.

The pressure was on and no one felt it more than Xavi Hernandez. The Al Sadd coach’s methods were under the scanner after an aggressive Al Nassr had drilled holes in their defence in the first leg in Riyadh. Xavi had exhorted his men to lift their play and dominate the game.

At their home ground and in front of thousands of passionate fans on Monday, the Sadd players showed the tactics of their coach, if applied in the right way, could topple even the best prepared of sides. No wonder then, Xavi was smiling broadly after the game, his team having secured a semifinal spot with a 3-1 win in the second leg and a 4-3 result on aggregate.

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Al Sadd fans had plenty to cheer about on Tuesday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

“We’re happy with the result, we gave an unbelievable performance. In the first leg, we didn’t play well, but we did what was required tonight and we deserve to go through,” said the former Spain and Barcelona midfield maestro.

Akram Afif nullified Al Nassr’s first-leg advantage with a free header. However, the visitors not only regained the lead but also got the crucial away-goal edge when Hamedallah’s free-kick went in off Sadd’s defensive wall.

But Hassan Al Haydos’ spectacular goal staggered the Saudi outfit and they were flat on their backs when Baghdad Bounedjah drilled home a penalty late in the game.

The bitterness of defeat was such that the visitors ended up blaming the referee, Sri Lanka’s Dilan Perera, for his decision to award the penalty. It was, however, obvious from television replays that Abdullah Madu had pushed down a goal-bound Afif, leaving the official with little choice.

Nassr’s defeat was also a tactical one as they abandoned their aggressive approach that characterised their game in Riyadh, thereby playing into Sadd’s hands. It allowed the home team to retain possession and work their way up, piling the pressure on the Nassr defence.

Xavi admitted he was expecting Nassr to attack more. “Yes, I did, especially after the first leg. But the change helped us to control the play. In fact, we controlled the game throughout and it was one of the best matches we’ve played this season.”

Al Haydos, the man who struck the best goal of the night, revealed Xavi’s pep talk at half-time had lifted their spirits.

“He spoke to us calmly and said he trusted us and we should enjoy our game. His words were a real boost to the players,” said Al Haydos. “It wasn’t an easy game, but we managed to make things go our way, taking advantage of their weak points.”

Sadd weren’t the only winners of the night. The fans who filled the stands also deserved credit and Xavi said their presence was a big motivating factor.

“They were part of the game, their support had a clear effect on the players. We need them not only in these matches, but throughout the season,” he said.

Sadd’s focus now turns to the Qatar Stars League, where they take on Umm Salal in the fourth round on Friday. They have a game on hand too, with the third-round clash against Al Sailiya set for Tuesday.

Busy times certainly, but happy times too, for Xavi and Sadd.

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Al Sadd striker Baghdad Bounedjah shares his joy with the fans. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran