BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: Former Asian champions Al Sadd will be looking for an early goal in hope of overturning a 1-0 deficit when they take on Saudi giants Al Hilal in the return leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-finals clash today.
Last week, former champions Al Hilal relied on Salman Al Faraj’s second-half strike to beat a resolute Al Sadd side in front of more than 63,000 fans at the King Fahd Stadium.
“If we can score in the first 15 minutes, it will be good for us to continue the game,” Al Sadd coach Hussain Amute said yesterday. “It will be difficult if we receive one goal. The only way to qualify is to score. If we play like a team, then we can get a good game,” he added.
Amute said he was pleased to see Al Sadd - champions in 2011 - battle it out in front of a hostile crowd last week.
“I think they (Al Sadd players) did good (in front of 63,500) fans). They were focused,” Amute said when asked about crowd pressure last week.
“And I think we defended well. But we didn’t take too many chances in the attack because we had only two people up front. I guess it is a home game and we will take more risks. I hope that we score from the opportunities we get,” the Moroccan said.
The Al Sadd coach admitted his camp was feeling the pressure as were the home team fans.
“Sure, we are all under pressure (smiles) - the team, and the fan, everybody is under pressure,” Amute said.
“It is a big game. We have to give all what we have - technically, tactically and mentally. We have to play with character,” Amute said.
The Al Sadd coach was quick to point out that scoring goals would remain key in today’s clash.
“I think we have to go forward to score to qualify for the semifinals. But we have to keep our balance - we have to keep good balance in attack and defence. If we receive (a) goal it will be very difficult to score against a top side. I think we have to defend well and take some risks in front,” he explained before adding that his side was free of injury concerns.
Al Hilal, the two-time Asian winners, have not been to the semi-final stage of the continental tournament since 2010 and two years ago they were eliminated from the quarter-finals by eventual winners Ulsan Hyundai of Korea Republic.
Yesterday, Al Hilal coach Laurentiu Reghecampf seemed miffed at being asked to do the mandatory press conference in the morning, just hours after his side landed in Doha.
“We came yesterday (Sunday) night. I think this is not the right time for a press conference,” Reghecampf said. When asked to clarify the concern, he added: “I don’t have nothing to say. What I say is enough. It wasn’t very nice to come for this press conference when we have training in the night. I think that is not respect for us.”
Turning his focus to the game tonight, an angry Reghecampf hit back: “I think the real game is on the pitch and not before. And we are ready to give answers on the pitch.”
He added: “I hope we are ready for the game. And I am sure our players are ready to play.”
The 38-year-old retired Romanian international said Al Sadd - trailing 1-0 from the first leg - will be forced to open up the game tonight.
“We saw that Al Sadd play too much on the defence in the last game. They tried to close out our best players. I think tomorrow night they are going to open the game,” Reghecampf.
“They have to do that. They have to score. I think our team will have more open spaces to score. That’s why I think we will play very good and score,” he added. “We are not fearful. We have come here to win. We don’t have to fear any side. It is a football game. Everything is possible. We are playing against a big team. We are also one of the best teams in Asia. We have very good players. The atmosphere is very good that’s why I am happy to play a good team,” Reghecampf thundered.
“We have come here knowing that we are playing against a big team. They have good players. They played a very good game in Riyadh. We are ready for that. I think they are going to make changes. That’s why we have to be very careful. I think our team has the power to win the game tomorrow night,” the Romanian said.