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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Xavi tackles a different challenge in Al Sadd hot seat

The Spanish coach is eager to drive home the away-goal advantage in second leg.
Al Sadd Coach Xavi Hernandez Shouts Instructions To His Players
Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez shouts instructions to his players during their AFC Champions League match against Al Duhail on Tuesday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

For a man nicknamed the ‘Puppet Master’ for his penchant for controlling play, Xavi Hernandez faced a different challenge on Tuesday night. This time he was pulling the strings from the sidelines, not from the midfield as he used to do for his former club Barcelona, Spain’s national team or even Al Sadd for whom he played until recently.

Once a calm operator in the midfield, Xavi was limited by rules to a smaller area but his thoughts and ideas travelled right across the field as Al Sadd players fought hard to gain supremacy over their city rivals Duhail in the AFC Champions League game. For coach Xavi, there was delight, frustration, ambition, rage and hope at the Al Junaib Stadium as he made his competitive debut.

The 1-1 scoreline seemed a fair result after a scrappy tussle even if the coach felt otherwise. “We were better than Duhail, but this is football. If you don’t make use of the chances, then you won’t win,” said Xavi after the game. “I am satisfied with the performance. We could have won, but now there’s another game remaining which will be played at our home and we are thinking about that now.”

Given the fact that both teams were just kick-starting the season, the rustiness in the game was understandable. Al Sadd started on an aggressive note, but they were reduced to spurts of attacking play as Duhail fought back to draw parity in the midfield. If one expected a smooth-flowing ‘tiki-taka’, only disappointment was in store. Xavi, for one, felt his men should have grabbed their chances.

“My only disappointment today is that we didn’t win. It’s not a bad result as we scored an away goal, but we deserved more than that. What makes me happy is how the players performed on the pitch,” he said.

Al Sadd Players Confront The Referee
Al Sadd players confront the referee, demanding a penalty for a handball offence. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

The 39-year-old though had reasons to be upset after his team was denied a penalty in injury time. Duhail defender Bassam Al Rawi’s handball wasn’t deemed an offence by referee Satu Riyoju of Japan, leading to vehement protests by Al Sadd players and also by Xavi on the touchline.

“Mistakes are part of the game. I don’t like to talk about refereeing. A penalty call in the last minute of the game is tough for the referee, but in my opinion, it was a penalty,” he said.

Xavi did surprise his opposite number Rui Faria with his approach at the start.

“They started with a different approach from what we were used to and it took some time for us to adapt,” admitted Faria. “Al Sadd is ahead of us after scoring an away goal, but my players will return and deliver what is needed of them in the second leg. I am confident that they can handle the pressure.”

Al Duhail too had to shake off early season blues, with a couple of new players, including Iraqi youngster Mohanad Ali, joining the team. The knee injury suffered by defender Medhi Benatia quite early was a blow as well.

“It is a bad injury, he needs to undergo some tests to know the extent of it,” said Faria. “But Bassam stepped in and he had a good match.”

The teams are set to meet again in the second leg on August 13 and also on August 17 in the Sheikh Jassim Cup.

Familiarity, hopefully, will not lead to predictable action as the upcoming season is in need of exciting contests to lure the fans.

Duhail Sc S Edmilson
Duhail SC’s Edmilson shields the ball from Al Sadd’s Abdulkarim Hassan. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran