By Sports Reporter/Doha
Al Sadd sealed their place in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals after a 3-1 win over domestic rivals Al Duhail in a feisty second leg encounter at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium yesterday. Xavi Hernandez’s side secured their place in the last eight of the continental event with a 4-2 aggregate victory, after the first leg of the Round of 16 tie ended in a 1-1 draw at the Al Janoub stadium last Tuesday.
Al Sadd’s second successive quarter-final pits them against Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, with the first leg taking place on August 26 and the return leg three weeks later on September 16.
Al Sadd had never managed to beat a Qatari team in the AFC Champions League, drawing their last two such encounters in a row. They also went into the game having only won two of their last 15 games in the knockout stages of the Champions League, failing to win any of the last four games at this stage.
But yesterday they brought an end to those records, thanks to some electrifying performance in front of their vociferous home fans.
Qatar internationals Akram Afif and Abdelkarim Hassan gave Sadd a 2-0 lead. Al Duhail got a lifeline when Edmilson Junior scored in the second half, but an own goal from Ahmed Yasser in the dying minutes ensured Sadd progressed comfortably.
“We are delighted to have qualified for the quarter-finals. We beat Duhail, who are one of the strongest teams in the Middle East. In the first leg we were the better but today we were made to work hard by Duhail. We still had chances to score many goals but we missed many opportunities,” Sadd coach Xavi said after the match.
“I am happy with the performances of my players. I have taken up the coaching role only recently but the team has responded well to my coaching philosophy,” the Barcelona great added.
Duhail coach Rui Faria was disappointed with the loss. “I congratulate Al Sadd on their qualification. We were hoping to get a better result tonight. Once we went two goals behind, it was difficult to make a comeback. In the second half, after we made the substitutions we had some chances and scored a goal. But Sadd’s third goal killed the game for us,” the Portuguese manager said.
It was Duhail who had started on a bright note. Faria’s men showed attacking intent from the word go as centre-back Ahmed Yasser found Almoez Ali with a long pass after just three minutes. The Qatari international striker controlled the ball neatly inside the box, but his finish lacked accuracy, sending it wide of Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb.
The Sadd custodian was brought into action in the 10th minute though, but al-Sheeb was alert enough to make a double-save as Edmilson got past his marker down the right flank, cutting inside and shooting with the outside of his right boot. Al-Sheeb made a superb diving save and was quick to get up and parry Duhail captain Youssef Msakni’s shot on the rebound.
The early storm was weathered and soon the hosts took the lead against the run of play. Playmaker Nam Tae-hee, who joined Sadd from Duhail this season, supplied a defence-splitting pass for Baghdad Bounedjah who went through on goal and selflessly squared for Akram Afif to finish into the empty net, giving Al Sadd the lead in the 20th minute. Akram Afif now has had a hand in the last four goals scored by his team in the Champions League, scoring the last three in a row.
Three minutes later, Bounedjah could have doubled Al Sadd’s lead, beating the defender to Abdelkarim Hassan’s cross and flicking the ball, but the Algerian watched in agony as his strike bounced off the upright and behind for a goal kick.
Xavi’s men got their second of the night in the 34th minute. Nam won a free-kick at the edge of the box after he was brought down by Madibo. Step up 2018 AFC Player of The Year Hassan to fire a bullet from the set-piece into the roof of the helpless Amine Lecomte to make it 2-0 going into the dressing rooms.
Al Duhail pulled one back 10 minutes after the restart through impressive Edmilson. Almoez started a quick counter attack from deep into his own half, supplying Ali Afif down the left to cross for the Brazilian winger who finished into the bottom corner of al-Sheeb’s net to revive Al Duhail’s hopes.
A thrilling final half an hour saw Bounedjah hit the post again for Al Sadd after a solo run and Al Duhail came just as close to scoring two minutes later with Afif’s corner being inadvertently flicked by Gabi into the frame of his own goal.
Matters were settled in Al Sadd’s favour in added time with a double-blow for Al Duhail. First, Yasser’s attempt to defend a Hassan al-Haydos free-kick ended with the ball rolling into the back of Lecomte’s net to make it 3-1 for Al Sadd at the death.
Al Duhail ended with 10 men when substitute Mohamed Muntari was shown the red card for violent conduct soon after the third goal went in. Muntari, who had clashed with Bounedjah moments earlier, was sent-off in the aftermath after an assault on Boualem Khoukhi.
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