By Sports Reporter/Doha
If 20 years from now Xavi Hernandez is counted among football’s great coaches, he would be proudly reminiscing about the first step in that direction he took with Al Sadd of Qatar.
After winning all he had hoped for as a player – the FIFA World Cup in 2010, the European Championship in 2008 and 2012, not to speak of four Champions League titles, eight La Liga crowns and the QNB Stars League – the Spaniard will lead his side Al Sadd in the first match of the new league season Wednesday at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
He has already guided Al Sadd to the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League and just last week won his first title as coach when the Wolves beat their chief rivals in Qatar Al Duhail in the Sheikh Jassim Cup.
The start of his coaching journey couldn’t have been more encouraging but Xavi said the Qatar Stars League would have its own challenges.
“We are very happy with our performance in the AFC Champions League and the Sheikh Jassim Cup. The league is a new tournament and Al Sadd have important targets to meet, as we look to win titles,” he said at his pre-match press conference
“Al-Wakrah is a very strong team and has excellent players, both local and foreign. I know the Al Wakrah coach (Marquez Lopez) well; he has an offensive style similar to Al Sadd’s. We must continue working and be ready to give our best.”
“We are going to play at our home stadium. We have studied Al Wakrah well and we hope there won’t be any surprises. The start is very important in the league.”
Xavi also pointed out that all the teams have improved this season, considering the new signings and pre-season preparations.
He further said: “My philosophy, which I learned while playing for Barcelona and Spain, is to have possession of the ball. The players are applying it and I hope they continue to learn.”
As for the constant pressure on Al Sadd, Xavi remarked: “Pressure brings titles. This is what happened in the previous season, when we won the league. I am happy to coach this group of players. I am a positive man and I know that pressure will help us to win titles, and we’re training hard to achieve that.”
Asked about the absence of suspended striker Baghdad Bounedjah, the coach said: “Baghdad is an unbelievable player in terms of performance, and always makes the difference in attack. There are many other excellent players in the team who can create opportunities and we don’t just depend on one player.”
Finally, he concluded by saying: “I feel satisfied with the team’s performance in attack and we will continue working on it. Baghdad won’t play (due to suspension), and Nam Tae-hee will also be unavailable due to a muscle injury.”
Meanwhile, Al Wakrah coach Marquez Lopez said his side will be facing a tough challenge against the defending champions.
“Our task is difficult because we’re coming from the second division and we’re facing reigning QNB Stars League champions Al Sadd first. We worked to prepare for this match with the players physically and psychologically, and we hope to bring out our best,” said Lopez.
“We’re waiting for a difficult confrontation against Al Sadd, which is a well-known team that always achieves positive results. Plus they have already played three big matches (two in the AFC Champions League and the Sheikh Jassim Cup final) so far.”
He concluded by saying his players were keenly looking ahead despite the challenges.
“Our pre-tournament camp was a success, we did a great job with the players and I’m happy with the response they’ve shown. Now they know my style of functioning. We played four friendly matches during our pre-season camp and we won three of them, which was good.
“We’ve players who were with us last season and they know very well what I seek from them. There’re new players in the team and they also know about our strategy. There’ll some changes according to the requirements of matches and that’s normal. We can deal with it.”
In the second match of the day, Al Duhail will take on Qatar Sports Club with several of their players missing due to injuries.
“We’re ready to face Qatar SC. We will start the competition in a new tournament. We miss some players, but we will have 11 players on the pitch who will do their best to collect full points, so that we make a strong start to the league,” said Al Duhail coach Rui Faria.
“We will sorely miss Luis Martin, Assim Madibo, Mohamed Moussa, Ahmed Yasser and Mehdi Benatia.”
5.20pm: Al Sadd vs Al Wakrah, Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium
7.30pm: Qatar Sports Club vs Al Duhail, Al Janoub Stadium
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