Copa Libertadores champions Santos booked their place in the final on Sunday by comprehensively defeating Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 with a trident of lovely goals from Neymar, Borges, and Danilo. Tomorrow at 19:30 local (Japan) time, FC Barcelona will have to battle Qatari club Al-Sadd to earn the right to face the Brazilian champions.
I’m not really going to focus much on Barça in this piece and there is nothing in specific to talk about. We all know the team is obviously feeling superb after Saturday night. There are no members of the squad unavailable due to injury and who Pep decides to lineup in either the 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 is not something I care to speculate much about. There could be a few players rotated in to allow rest after Saturday and in preparation for Sunday, but I’ve always felt worrying or predicting a start 11 is a bit futile as the manager will put out his 11 and we must view and support regardless.
So let’s look into the story of Al-Sadd, which upon investigation is actually quite interesting reading. First of all, they really shouldn’t be here right now. In fact, Al-Sadd did not even qualify for the Asian Champions League they eventually won and allowed them entrance to this tournament. They were only granted a place in the Asian Champions League (AFC) after a Vietnamese club failed to submit the proper documentation. Then, in the quaterfinals, they lost the first leg 1-0 against Iranian club Sepahan, then lost 2-1 after extra time in the return. However, upon review of the first leg by the AFC Disciplinary Committee, Sepahan fielded an illegible player and the result was overturned to a 3-0 victory for Al-Sadd. That secured qualification to the semi-finals to face Suwon Samsung Bluewings, where more controversy ensued.
The second goal of the first leg 2-0 victory was truly one of a cheating, repugnant nature. As Suwon were pushing for an equalizer, one of their players (bleeding and semi-concussed after being kicked in the face) plus an Al-Sadd player were down in the box legitimately injured. Logically, at the next opportunity Suwon put the ball out of play. Then while the camera was still focused on the injured Suwon player, and nearly all Suwon players were in the opposition half waiting to have the ball returned, Al-Sadd threw the ball back to their player Keita who just turned and played Mamodou Niang through clear on goal and he scored easily. A massive meleesparked for a good 5 minutes, as the Suwon players were rightly incensed. Suwom only managed a 1-0 win the next leg.
“Al-Badd” as they unaffectionately, but quite rightly, became known went on to win the cup after a 4-2 penalty win (after a 2-2 draw) against South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motor’s, the two time defending champions. They were the first Qatari side to win the tournament.
Despite knowing little about this team, there are at least 3 known players. In defense we will see Algerian international Nadir Belhadj, who was with Portsmouth from 2008-2010, where he played quite well and in fact the left-back was linked with Barça in the rumor mill. In midfield there is skillful Ivorian midfielder Kader Keita who was most famously with Lyon from 2007-2009, and upfront there is Niang, who was a prolific goalscorer in France withStrasbourg but most notably with Marseille and did well in Fenerbache before their own scandal saw an exodus of players. Over his career he is basically a 1 in 2 striker. Reports say that keeper Saqr is handy as well, and he was instrumental winning the final throughout the 90 minutes as well as by saving 2 penalties. They are managed, in his second spell, by experienced 59 year old Uruguayan Jorge Fossati, who has coached several known South American clubs as well as the Qatari national team.
So there you have it. Imagine if Mourinho was managing in that Asian Champions League, imagine the whining and winging and conspiracy theories he would have about Al-Sadd. We really are heavy favorites to win this match and it would be an opportunity truly missed, plus somewhat embarrassing, to not pull it together and assert ourselves on tomorrow’s games. This team has never let us down and I doubt it will happen tomorrow in Yokohama stadium, despite it being the ground we lost to Internacional in 2006.