Al Sadd will play for nothing but pride when they take on Al Faisaly in their final group fixture of the AFC Champions League in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday.
The two-time champions exit the AFC Champions League group stage for the second year running, and coach Javi Gracia was adamant his side need to remain focused and show respect to avoid a careless display on Wednesday.
“It’s a difficult situation for us; the game is hard to play without any chance to qualify,” said Gracia yesterday. “It’s our last game of the season. We are going to respect ourselves, try to perform well and to respect the competition because the rest of the teams are playing to qualify and we have to do our best. The main thing is we have to respect ourselves in this game.”
Defender Pedro Miguel echoed his coach’s sentiments. “We are out of tournament and we are not happy with that. We must give our best against Al Faisaly and finish on a high. We will try to play a good match and do our best to achieve a positive result against Al Faisaly,” Miguel said.
For Faisaly though, it is now or never as they target a place in the Round of 16 on their continental debut beckoning. The Saudi Arabian side have enjoyed a dream debut campaign so far, going into the final matchday unbeaten and at the top of a group that also contains perennial participants Nasaf as well as Jordanian powerhouse Al Wehdat.
With nine points collected so far, it all comes down to the final 90 minutes against already-eliminated Al Sadd, with a win sure to secure their place in the next round, while a draw or even defeat could see them progress depending on results elsewhere. “It’s the last game tomorrow after a very tough period for all teams. With the results we’ve got until now, we need to make one last effort to take our chances,” said head coach Marinos Ouzounidis.
“Now it’s the last step. It’s not like the previous games. It will be different. We were not thinking about this when we first came here, but after these results it’s like a final for us. We are satisfied with what we did so far, but when you are so close to qualifying, you have to go for it. Based on the performances and the efforts until now, we deserve to go through.”
Al Faisaly had overturned an early Hassan al-Haydos goal to seal a famous 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Hicham Faik and Julio Tavares when the two sides met in the reverse fixture; the club’s first-ever win in the AFC Champions League, but Marinos warned that mental and physical fatigue make Wednesday’s game a different proposition.
Should Al Wehdat beat Nasaf in the earlier Wednesday kick-off in Dammam, Marinos’ men could find themselves in the next round before a ball is kicked in their game against Al Sadd.
Al Sadd coach Javi Gracia (right) and defender Pedro Miguel address a press conference in Dammam on Tuesday.