Preview - S-final 1st leg: Al Sadd SC (QAT) v Al Hilal SFC (KSA)
Doha: A clash of two continental giants gets the 2019 AFC Champions League semi-finals underway as Qatar’s Al Sadd SC welcome Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal SFC to Jassim bin Hamad Stadium for the first leg on Tuesday.
The two sides are both domestically nicknamed ‘Al Zaeem’ or The Boss, as the most decorated in their respective nations.
They also boast a proud continental history, having won Asia’s prime club competition on two occasions each.
Al Hilal’s two triumphs came in the Asian Club Championship in 1992 and 2000, while Al Sadd won it in 1989 before lifting the 2011 AFC Champions League title.
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Al Sadd’s path to a second consecutive semi-final was not easy; in fact, the Qataris started their campaign with a 2-0 defeat against Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli before recovering to collect 10 points over the next four Group D fixtures.
A 2-0 last matchday reversal at Persepolis didn't matter as Al Sadd progressed as group leaders.
Next up was a date with Al Duhail in the Round of 16.
Akram Afif scored in both legs as a 1-1 draw was followed by a 3-1 home win over their domestic rivals to send Al Sadd into the quarter-finals.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr provided a stern test at the last eight stage, beating Xavi’s men 2-1 in Riyadh and holding out for a 1-1 draw in Doha until the final half an hour.
Al Sadd pulled through as goals from Hassan Al Haydos and Baghdad Bounedjah sealed victory and a semi-final ticket for the Qataris.
Despite being drawn in a so-called ‘Group of Death’ alongside Al Ain, Al Duhail and Esteghlal, Al Hilal stormed to the next round with a game to spare, collecting 13 points in the process.
Awaiting them in the Round of 16 were Al Ahli, who were brushed aside on their own soil 4-2, making their 1-0 return leg win in Riyadh merely a consolation as Al Hilal advanced to the quarter-finals.
Another domestic rival was Al Hilal’s opponent in the next stage; this time it was two-time AFC Champions League winners Al Ittihad.
The first leg in Jeddah ended goalless, and Al Ittihad took an early lead in the reverse fixture. Razvan Lucescu’s men showed immense mental strength to turn the tie through and earn a 3-1 victory to set up the semi-final clash against Al Sadd.
Players to watch
Despite a wealth of attacking talent at Xavi’s disposal, left-back Abdelkarim Hassan remains one of the most influential figures in the side.
The role of the 2018 AFC Player of The Year in providing width is doubly as important in the absence of right-back Pedro Miguel.
Hassan is also an attacking threat from set-pieces as demonstrated by his thunderous free-kick goal against Al Duhail in the Round of 16.
Since his arrival at Al Hilal, coach Lucescu has made Mohammed Kanno the centrepiece of his side.
The midfielder combines physical presence, positional awareness and technical abilities, enabling him to contribute to both the attacking and defensive phases of play.
When the team push forward in numbers as they often do, Kanno finds that balance between anchoring midfield or arriving late into the final third to create an additional outlet.
Al Sadd will be eager to show they have learned from last year’s semi-final exit, where a 1-0 first leg defeat at home left them needing an improbable win at Azadi Stadium.
They will be encouraged by a look at the history records, which show Al Hilal have only managed one win in their last eight visits to Qatari opponents in the AFC Champions League.
Al Sadd SC (QAT) vs Al Hilal SFC (KSA)
Venue: Jassim bin Hamad Stadium
Kick-off: October 1, 18:30 UTC+3
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