By Sports Reporter/Doha
Al Sadd will aim to get the first win of their campaign, while Al Duhail will look to keep the winning momentum going as the Qatari giants return to AFC Champions League action today.
Sadd will have the advantage of playing at home as they play Iran’s Sepahan at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium at 6:35pm. For Duhail, though, it’s an away game against Saudi side Al Taawoun at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium in Buraidah.
Sadd, the 2011 AFC Champions League winners came away from Riyadh with a 2-2 draw against Al Nassr in their first match, while Sepahan stunned Al Ain 4-0 in their opening match.
On the match eve, Sadd’s head coach Xavi Hernandez said he expected a difficult match against Sepahan and was surprised by Iranian side’s one-sided win against Al Ain.
“I saw Sepahan’s last match, and it was a surprise to me that they won by 4-0. There is no doubt tomorrow it will be a tough match against them, but will do our best and we are very excited to play in the Asian Champions League,” Xavi said yesterday.
Last week, Sadd showed resilience to come back from a goal down inside the first seven minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw from a difficult Al Nassr side, with Hassan al-Haydos scoring early in the second half after an own goal had helped the Qataris equalise.
Since becoming the first Qatari side to win the AFC Champions League in 2011, Al Sadd reached the semi-finals twice – in the last two editions. For coach Xavi, the 2020 campaign might finally be the year they go all the way to the final, but for now the next challenge is to overcome the high-flying visitors.
“I hope we can reach the final and win the title,” said Xavi. “The AFC Champions League is a very difficult tournament, but my team has capability to win the title. We are in a difficult group but we are ready for all matches and are excited what is in store for us,” he added.
For Sepahan, today’s encounter offers an opportunity to cement their early lead in the group and put themselves in a comfortable position, knowing they play their last two games of the group stage on home soil.
The Isfahan-based side might not boast the history or the popularity of Esteghlal and Persepolis, but Sepahan are in fact Iran’s most successful side in the AFC Champions League, having appeared in the competition 11 times, reaching the final in 2007 – the first Iranian side to achieve this feat, which has since been replicated by Zobahan in 2010 and Persepolis in 2018.
Meanwhile, Buraidah hosts Champions League football for the first time in three years as home side Al Taawoun welcome Qatari powerhouse Al Duhail, who Al Duhail presented their credentials with a solid 2-0 home win against Persepolis FC.
Walid Regragui’s Al Duhail will be mindful of a repeat of the 2019 scenario, when they travelled to Saudi off the back of a convincing home win against Iranian opponents, but were battered by Al Hilal 3-1 in Riyadh.
The Qatari’s have continued their Juventus link with their January business, adding attacking duo Mario Mandzukic and Han Kwang-song from the Italian club, a year after they had acquired Moroccan centre-back Medhi Benatia. Mandzukic started his first AFC Champions League campaign with a goal and Han contributed an assist against Persepolis last week.
The Saudis had the perfect start to their continental campaign with Faisal Darwish’s free-kick earning them a 1-0 victory over Sharjah last week. Taawoun’s first and only previous appearance in the AFC Champions League came in 2017 after they had finished fourth in the Saudi Pro League and benefited from the ineligibility of third-placed Ittihad at the time.
This time around, the Buraidah side earned their place in the group stage after stunning heavyweights Al Hilal in the semi-finals and Ittihad in the final to snatch the 2019 King’s Cup, the first major trophy in the club’s history.
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