DOHA: An apparent lack of match practice was on the minds of the two rival coaches yesterday as Qatar Stars League (QSL) champions Lekhwiya prepared to face Emir Cup winners Al Sadd in the season-opening Sheikh Jassim Cup match today.
Michael Laudrup, Lekhwiya’s new coach, yesterday sounded more cautious than confident when he said a major chunk of his influential players were away on national duty that left the QSL champions struggling for proper match practice at the short pre-season training camp in Austria.
Al Sadd coach Hussain Amute was far from his brooding self when asked about the match-fitness of his players ahead of today’s clash at Lekhwiya Stadium and their AFC Champions League quarter-final leg against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal on August 19.
“We were in Austria for our pre-season training camp. We had seven of our players away on national duty (the Qatar national squad was in training in Europe). We had to cancel a game since we didn’t have enough players,” Laudrup said during his first major media conference in Doha.
“So we started without the national team players. I guess we were expecting this because we know the national team have two major international events this season,” the former Danish international said.
“We got to play one match in Austria and now we are back,” the former Ajax, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus star said. “It was a little inconvenient (the lack of match practice) but we are not in a perfect world. I would say we had a good pre-season,” Laudrup, 50, added.
Amute, who guided Al Sadd to the QSL title in the 2012-13 season, said his team would start on an even keel against their rivals Lekhwiya today.
“No, we are in the similar situation,” Amute said when asked if his side would hold an edge over Lekhwiya going into today’s game. “We will also have five our regular players absent but we want to show a good performance,” he added.
“Our game against Lekhwiya paves the way for our clash against Al Hilal (on August 19) since we have a limited number of players,” Amute said. “Tomorrow we will see how ready we are.
“We know that we have to be ready — physically and mentally. We need to take it (today’s clash) seriously,” the Moroccan said while regularly mentioning Al Hilal in his replies. “I want my best players to be ready for the Al Hilal clash.” Amute said.
With the game likely to be played in warm and humid conditions, Amute said his team had another challenge this week: the weather in the Middle East at this time of the year.
“It is an important game and it will be hard as we got back from cold weather in Europe,” Amute said. “We want to play good against Lekhwiya,” he added.
“The spirit in the camp is good. The players are looking forward to the match,” Amute said. “I think both the teams have similar challenges in the Sheikh Jassim Cup,” Amute said.
Laudrup said Lekhwiya — being one of the top teams in QSL — is ambitiously chasing titles.
“When you are a top side, you always want to do well and win. It is the same with us. It will be the same with other clubs. It is the same with national teams in Asia like Saudi Arabia, Korea or Japan,” Laudrup said.
“We want to win this. This game is like the (Community Shield) game in England where Arsenal beat Man City. This is the first day of the new season. I wish Al Sadd good luck in their game against Al Hilal but I don’t wish them too well tomorrow,” Laudrup said with a smile.
When asked how he had settled down in his new job, Laudrup said: “It is like being at any ambitious football club. There were a few things that I changed and there were a few things I let them be. I believe it will be a good season.”
He added: “I am looking forward to the challenge. We have injury concerns but I know this gives the other players a chance to shine. We have concerns with (midfielder) Karim Boudiaf and (striker) Sebastian Soria. But we have signed a new player (Chico Flores).”
The game kicks-off today at 7pm.