Al Sadd will go into their FIFA Club World Cup Qatar quarter-final against Mexican side Monterrey today as the dark horse, a tag that head coach Xavi Hernandez was relishing.
The South American champions will be a different and difficult opponent to Sadd, to the one they faced on Wednesday night in the first round match.
Against Hienghene Sport – the Oceania minnows from New Caledonia – Xavi’s men could afford to play below-par and still get away with victory, but against Monterrey there will be minimum scope for error for the Qatari giants.
Sadd were largely unimpressive during their 3-1 win over Hienghene, struggling to find the net and needed extra time goals to see off a spirited Hienghene side. And now they will have to raise the bar against the Mexicans today at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium if they aspire to face European champions Liverpool in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
Xavi put down his side’s struggle to playing with a burden of expectations and the Spaniard said he has worked with his team over the last two days and made them aware to play pressure-free.
“It was a matter of confidence in the first match. We played well against Hienghene, but when it came to scoring goals and in important moments we struggled. I told my players that I trust them a lot and if they play to the best of their capacity then the team will do well,” Xavi said yesterday.
“Yes, Monterrey are the favourites tomorrow but I trust my players a lot. I’m here to win. I was preparing for this match even before the Hienghene match, because I was confident of winning against them. Now I am also preparing for Liverpool match, because I know we can beat Monterrey,” the 39-year-old added.
The Sadd head coach seemed to have done his homework on Monterrey side, who are taking part in the Club World Cup for the fourth time. “It’s a big game for us, we want to compete, we want to reach the semifinal, but we have in front of us, a very good team. Monterrey are an unbelievable team, they are working really well especially with this new coach Antonio Mohamed. It will be very tough, very difficult but at least we want to compete,” he said.
“In football, we never know what happens but we want to play very well, to show everybody our level. We want to play without pressure because the other day we felt too much pressure. But now it’s different. I think they are the favourites and it means we don’t have too much pressure now. We will play to win,” Xavi added.
Former Barcelona and Spain great is still in early days of his coaching career. But he is clear in his vision on how to play football – the kind of which gave him eight La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies at Barcelona.
“My football philosophy is simple: to play with the ball more. I don’t want my players chasing the ball all the time, I would rather have them control the play by holding the possession more. That’s the way I was brought up at Barcelona and in the Spain team,” Xavi says.
Sadd will once again rely on Baghdad Bounedjah – who scored a goal and put in a Man-of-the-Match performance against Hienghene. But the Algerian will need the support of Akram Afif, who was off-colour against the Oceania team.
Monterrey, meanwhile, are the in-form team at the moment. The Mexicans edged out local rivals Tigres 2-1 over two legs to win their continental title for the first time since winning the tournament three times in a row between 2011 and 2013. That streak of success in the CONCACAF means Los Rayados have significant experience of the Club World Cup, with their trip to Qatar their fourth participation.
Monterrey coach Antonio Mohamed said his team is eyeing nothing short of a final appearance in Qatar. “We want to prove our ability against the best clubs. This is a great opportunity for us. We want to reach the final. Playing against these teams is a challenge but we also want to enjoy the tournament,” 49-year old Argentinian said.
“We are fully prepared. We have adapted to the weather conditions in Qatar, we have the talent and desire and we dream about reaching the final,” he added.