Nam relishing clash with ‘best friend’ Jang
Doha: Al Sadd midfielder Nam Tae-hee is excited about the prospect of facing his close friend and Al Hilal defender Jang Hyun-soo in the 2019 AFC Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday.
Born just two months apart in 1991, Nam and Jang were international teammates in the Korea Republic side that finished runners-up in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia. But on Tuesday, they line up on opposite sides as Al Sadd SC and Al Hilal SFC battle for a place in the 2019 AFC Champions League final.
Having moved to Qatar in 2012 - joining Lekhwiya from French side Valenciennes - Nam swapped sides in the summer, joining Al Sadd to replace captain-turned-coach Xavi as the side’s main creative midfielder. In turn, Jang joined Al Hilal from FC Tokyo, replacing Australian defender Milos Degenek.
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“Jang is my best friend and we talk on the phone a lot. He is new to the Middle East, so I talk to him all the time,” said Nam ahead of Tuesday’s first-leg at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium.
“I am very excited to play against him. It will not be an easy task because he is a very good player and has many good players around him at Al Hilal, so it will be challenging yet nice to face him."
An Anterior Cruciate Ligaments injury kept Nam out of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in which Korea Republic were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual champions Qatar. With his recovery still in progress back in February, Al Sadd took a chance on the 28-year-old, signing him from rivals Al Duhail.
The Korean midfielder was to join in June after he had fully recovered, meaning he would only play for Al Sadd starting in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
“It wasn’t difficult to adapt to life at Al Sadd; the staff and the players helped me a lot when I first joined. I’m enjoying being here a lot."
Nam was expected to fill a big hole at his new club’s midfield, left by the retirement of Spanish legend Xavi, who now serves as head coach.
“For me, (playing under Xavi) is a big opportunity to improve. I learned a lot and I’m enjoying it. We are doing very well and we will play in the AFC Champions League semi-finals. It’s my first semi-final, so I’m happy with that."
Al Sadd are the last West Asian side to have lifted the AFC Champions League, and having reached the semi-finals last year, Nam believes 2019 could finally be the year Al Sadd bring the trophy back home.
“For the past seven years or so, we found it difficult. We didn’t win, but this time we have a big chance to win the title. I believe we can do it and we are ready to win the AFC Champions League."
Photo: Al Sadd SC
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