By Sports Reporter/Doha
Al Sadd and Al Duhail lock horns again today in the second leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League Round of 16 after the two sides played out a 1-1 draw at Al Janoub Stadium last week.
The two Qatari giants were present at the quarter-final stage last year, but there is only room for one of them amongst Asia’s top eight this time around. And if last week’s match is an indicator, the today’s clash is set to be explosive.
Akram Afif’s first-half goal gave Al Sadd the lead on the night and the away goal advantage, meaning a goalless draw at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium today would be enough for Xavi’s side to reach the continental quarter-finals for the sixth time in their history.
Awaiting the aggregate winners of the two Qatari sides is a quarter-final date with Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, who beat UAE’s Al Wahda on a 4-3 aggregate.
On the match eve, Xavi said his players were ready to put on a top show but expected Duhail to pose a tough challenge. In his first match in charge, the Spaniard employed a high pressure, pressing game in the first leg and will more likely employ the same strategy in the second leg.
“We are very motivated, just like how we were in the first leg. I am very happy with the players and I am confident in what they offer. We are positive for the game and are ready for it,” he said in a press conference yesterday.
“There are many areas where we can improve, especially in defence. We must play a high pressure game. We did play well in the first leg, but there is still a lot to develop in the team. There is no doubt that tomorrow’s game will be difficult one. Everyone knows that Duhail are strong; they have a special coach. We always suffer in front of him, but we are confident of achieving a positive result,” he added.
Asked if he would play defensively to protect the away goal advantage, Xavi said: “Our aim is to focus on all lines, not just defence. We will play on creating opportunities and scoring goals. Al Duhail are one of the best teams in the Middle East and it will be difficult to beat them.”
Xavi confirmed there are no injuries in the Sadd squad. He also did not confirm or deny if defender Bualem Khoukhi will make the starting XI today. The Qatari international did not play in the first leg and Xavi said he will take a call on Khoukhi’s participation today.
“Khoukhi is one of the best players but he joined the camp very late. I will decide before match whether to play him or not. He is an important player, not only in this game but also the upcoming games,” Xavi said.
Duhail coach Rui Faria, on the other hand, has no such luxuries. The Portuguese manager will be without central defender Medhi Benatia who suffered a knee injury 18 minutes into the first leg. The Moroccan international underwent surgery in France last week and will be sidelined for up to four weeks. In another blow, defender Sultan al-Brake was also ruled out of the fixture, causing defensive headache to Faria.
However, Faria will be encouraged by the positive performances of Youssef Msakni, who netted Al Duhail’s goal in the first leg on his return from a loan spell at KAS Eupen, and Iraqi striker Mohanad Ali, who showed glimpses of his ability in his 25-minute cameo.
“It will be very difficult against a strong team. Sadd too are one of the best teams in the Middle East, and they have an away goal advantage,” Faria said yesterday.
“But we are ready for the match. We know it is a difficult task but we are ready to give our best. We have analysed the previous game and the mistakes we committed. Now we have corrected them so we are ready for the match,” he added.
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