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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Xavi savours sweet win, eyes Sheikh Jassim Cup next

Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez praises his players for overcoming a spirited challenge from Duhail SC en route to the AFC Champions League quarterfinal.
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Xavi Hernadez IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

The second round of the Al Sadd-Duhail SC heavyweight clash was more intense and hard-fought than the first.

If a cagey contest unfolded in the first leg at the Al Janoub Stadium last week, a no-holds-barred slugfest was on display in the second at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on Tuesday night.

When the dust settled, Sadd stood tall, having ensured their place in the quarterfinal.

Duhail, having given their all, went out defeated but far from disgraced. They were at the receiving end of a 2-4 aggregate scoreline, but it could well have been different had they made most of the momentum they had in the early part of the second leg.

The Red Knights’ coach Rui Faria’s defiant words at the end of the game showed how this rivalry could light up the upcoming domestic season.

“They were better than us, last week and today. But they aren’t the better side, I would go further and say that we’re the better side,” said the Portuguese.

He might not be entirely right in that regard – that will be decided in the forthcoming months when the Qatar Stars League (QSL) gets rolling. On Tuesday night, though, it was his counterpart Xavi who sported the expression that mattered.

“I’m pleased with the team because they did an outstanding job. Duhail are one of the best teams in the Middle East, with players who’ve been together for seven or eight years. So our achievement is amazing,” he said with a smile after the 3-1 second-leg victory.

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Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernadez giving instructions to team captain Gabi during their AFC Champions League match against Duhail on Tuesday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

On the eve of the match, Xavi had sought an overall improvement in his team’s performance. The bruising contest showed Sadd have to travel further on the path professed by the coach.

“At Al Wakrah in the first leg, we were the better side, but tonight, we were better only in the first half. They made things very difficult for us in the second half,” admitted the Spaniard.

Trailing 0-2 after the first half, an Edmilson Junior goal 11 minutes into the second session brought Duhail one goal awaybfrom a place in the quarterfinal. Long balls into the penalty area were troubling Sadd, but Xavi changed plans, bringing in Khoukhi Boualem to tighten his team’s defence. They also created a couple of excellent chances before the third goal dashed Duhail’s hopes.

“We were suffering due to long balls in the second half, and we brought Khoukhi to deal with it. After that, we changed the approach a little bit, with four defenders instead of three and also having two defensive midfielders,” said Xavi.

Sadd will take on Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr in the quarterfinal and Xavi expected it to be a physical game.

“I saw them play in the round of 16 game. They’re a tough team and have excellent players, so it’ll be a physical contest, but we will aim to reach the semis. Right now, the players are celebrating. We’ll then think of the Sheikh Jassim Cup, the QSL, and then the Champions League. It’ll be a step by step approach,” he said.