Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez is under no illusions about the enormity of the task his team faces as they clash with Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr in the Asian Champions League today.
While Al Nassr, with 10 points from four matches, have already booked their last-16 spot, Al Sadd, although in a strong position with eight points, can still be overtaken by third-placed Sepahan if they win their remaining two matches in Group D.
Though that’s a remote possibility, Xavi said he was not taking any chances.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference, Xavi said: “Al Nassr is one of the best teams in the competition. We played them in the quarter-finals last year and also in February this year. But this time, it will be different. They have strengthened the team with new players, and they have an excellent striker – Abderrazak Hamdallah.”
He emphasised that Al Sadd cannot afford to relax at this stage of the tournament.
“Our goal is to win and to qualify for the next round. We have to give our best, and we cannot relax, especially against these kind of teams. It could be one of the best games in the competition. It will be fantastic for the fans and also for the competition and hopefully, we can get three points.”
Asked about his side’s approach for the game, the coach said: “Al Nassr have a good defence and they have not conceded any goals here so far. But we have a good attack and our aim is to score more goals than our opponent.
“That is our way. They are good in defence, we are good in attack. We want to dominate, create chances to score. The players are comfortable with this way.
“The challenge for us is to score and also take care of defence. This is what happened in the second game against Al Ain. The problem is not with the defence, the responsibility of not conceding lies with the entire team.”
Xavi further said: “We made changes in the last two games, rotating players. We have four or five players who have played 90 minutes in both games. We can manage things with the substitutions. The players are in a good moment, physically and mentally. We are in our best conditions and we must use this opportunity.”
Finally, with regards to changes in Al Nassr’s style compared to the previous year, Xavi said: “Al Nassr’s style has not changed from last year. They are a good team and score a lot of goals. We are speaking of a strong team that is capable of reaching the semi-final, and so we must be well prepared.”
Al-Sadd’s South Korean midfielder Nam Tae-hee also stressed on the importance of playing to their full potential against Al Nassr.
Nam said: “We will face a strong team. Al Nassr is better than last season and therefore we have to be more than 100% ready. If we play with the same quality as in the previous match against Al Ain, we will be able to get the win and the three points.
As for his readiness for the match, Nam said: “I know I need to make more effort for the team. Last season, I came back from an injury, but now I am completely ready for every match, and of course I want to improve in every match to help the team win.”
Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria said his side won’t relax despite sealing qualification.
“We have sealed qualification, but Al Sadd still need a result here to qualify, though both teams are in a somewhat similar position. We want to keep winning to prove our quality and mentality,” said Vitoria.
“The game will be difficult because of the opposition’s quality. We have quality too, so we can expect a good game. We are aware of their individual and team attributes, so we will enjoy the game and hopefully get a good result. Our philosophies do not change, but we make minor tweaks to counter different opposition.
“Both teams are big, both have some really good players, and both have a winning mentality. All my players are ready, and the line-up will be decided as we see fit technically,” said Vitoria.
The previous game between the two sides ended in a 2-2 draw on Matchday Two on February 11 this year.
Hamdallah’s early strike was cancelled out by teammate Abdulelah al-Amri’s own goal, before Hassan al-Haydos put Al Sadd ahead only to have Abdulrahman al-Obaid score the equaliser for Al Nassr five minutes later.
Group C at Education City Stadium
6pm: Persepolis (IRN) vs Al Duhail (QAT)
9pm: Al Taawoun (KSA) vs Sharjah (UAE)
Group D at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium
6pm: Al Sadd (QAT) vs Al Nassr (KSA)
9pm: Sepahan (IRN) vs Al Ain (UAE)
Al Sadd players celebrate a goal during the AFC Champions League match against Al Ain on Friday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil