Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Al Sadd Defy Odds To Take Asian Crown
“I think I am not in the best condition to analyse it. At this moment, my feeling is stronger than my reason.”
Those were the words of Jorge Fossati, the coach of newly-crowned Asian Champions Al Sadd, deep in the bowels of Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Saturday evening. The Uruguayan had just watched a fantastic final in which his team overcame favourites and host Jeonbuk Motors thanks to a penalty shootout.
120 minutes ended 2-2 in a game that the Koreans had the chances to win but the Qataris held out and took the shootout 4-2 thanks to two saves from man of the match Mohamed Saqr.
“I am happy for everyone but especially for Saqr,” said Fossati. “When I came back to the club in January, many people told me that he couldn’t play anymore and that he was too old. Today, he was fantastic but that was not the only game in this competition in which he was fantastic. Jeonbuk players did not miss the penalties, he saved them. In the game also, he made two or three very important saves. One in the last minute was extraordinary.”
Al Sadd weren’t even supposed to be in the competition at all and were only placed in the qualifying round to replace a Vietnamese team that had failed to submit the correct documentation. Fossati steered the team to the knockout stage where they managed to make the last four despite losing both legs of the quarter-final to Sepahan. The Iranians had fielded an ineligible player and were punished accordingly.
Onwards went the men from Doha to a tricky semi-final against two-time continental champs Suwon Bluewings. In Korea in the first leg, Al Sadd were surprisingly leading 1-0 when Senegalese striker Mamadou Niang scored his second of the evening. It almost caused a riot. Suwon had allowed the ball to go out of play to give injured players time for treatment and expected to get it ball.
Kader Keita didn’t see it that way. Suwon had attacked for a while before the ball was out for a throw-in and the Ivory Coast international decided that cancelled any rights to sportsmanship and with the entire Suwon team in the Qatari half, he passed the ball forward for an unmarked and almost unseen Niang to score.
A huge fight followed. Fans were on the pitch, noses were broken, kicks came flying in and coaching staff got involved. Eventually the dust settled and although Al Sadd lost the second leg 1-0 in one of the most defensive home displays you will see, the team booked their place in the final.
Jeonbuk should have won. The 2006 champions took an 18th minute lead with an Eninho free-kick but soon after Sim Woo-yeon headed into his own net from a Keita cross. The African produced a moment of real quality on the hour to volley home past Kim Min-sik to put the Qataris ahead.
Jeonbuk had already had chances and put on tournament top scorer Lee Dong-gook who had been struggling to recover from a thigh injury. Eventually the pressure paid off and Lee Hyun-sung headed home a last-minute equaliser.
As the game went into extra-time, again, all expected Jeonbuk to triumph. Al Sadd looked tired and had taken off their two most creative players, Keita and Ibrahim Khalfan. The Koreans had their tails up and 41,805 fans were in full voice. But three times the home team hit the woodwork and just as in normal time, when they were on target, Saqr was on hand to palm the ball away. Whatever Jeonbuk did, they could just not get the all important goal.
“Tonight's defeat came from so many chances from which we failed to score,” said coach Choi Kang-hee. “Conceding the first goal was decisive. Some of our players got too excited during the game...I told the players we would have chances to score in extra-time but we were not able to take them. It is very frustrating to lose in this way but the players did all they could."
They did but it was just not to be and even before the shootout, there was a sense that Sadd would finish triumphant. That was before Kim Dong-chan and Lee Hyun-sung saw Saqr save their spot kicks. In between, Al Sadd’s Korean defender Lee Jung-soo hit the bar to give fans some hope but his team-mates soon extinguished that faint flame to signal the start of a parth thousands of miles to the west.