Tribune News Network
Al Sadd, winners of Qatar’s domestic league and AFC Champions League semi-finalists this year, will take on surprise Oceania champions Hienghene Sport in the opening game of the 16th edition of the FIFA Club World Cup at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on Wednesday.
This will be Al Sadd’s second participation in the competition after debuting in the 2011 edition, where they finished third. This time the man in charge will be none other than Xavi Hernandez, who won that 2011 edition with Barcelona. After four seasons playing for Al Sadd, the veteran Spain midfielder hung up his boots in May to take up the coaching reins.
Facing them will be Hienghene Sport, the first New Caledonian team to reach the Club World Cup, who themselves will be hoping to spring a surprise.
“We’ve looked at Hienghene and we understand that we’re the favourites, although you still have to go out and do it on the pitch. Our aim is for the players not to feel the added pressure that comes with being the home team and wanting to perform – as can often happen. We want them to play without fear and express themselves freely. There are some quality players in my team,” said Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez, former Barcelona star player.
“It's a big privilege for us to play against the best clubs during this year... so we are very excited to play, to start the competition,” he added.
The Club World Cup is a tournament given to surprises. In the last six editions, home advantage has propelled the host nation’s representatives to the final on three occasions: Raja Casablanca (2013), Kashima Antlers (2016) and Al Ain (2018).
Al Sadd, which is packed with at least eight top star players from the Qatar national team that won the Asian Cup this year, would surely look to do the same.
“We have the best generation of Qatari players in history, in my opinion,” said Xavi while addressing the pre-match media conference. “But we have tomorrow a very difficult game and we have to take it step by step.”
On Xavi being the first to have played in FIFA Club World Cup and now coaching a side in the same tournament, the Spaniard expressed surprise. “"I didn’t know it! So, it's a privilege, thank you for the information!... I am more excited now, it’s an honour.”
Meanwhile, Hienghene Sport’s head coach Felix Tagawa hoped for his team to make a good start. “It’s a very big match for us, with a team that plays football very well, that continually shows their skill through their style of football,” he said of Al Sadd.
He, however, added: “To know us you'll have to meet us. We will take our chance to be known in the match....your competitor is the competition, and it is on us to bring forward our best, so we can be ready for tomorrow.”
Hienghene Sport’s player Bertrand Kai also spoke highly of Al Sadd, saying, “Just like their coach (Xavi) has mentioned this is a professional team that is very tough, and has been a champion for Qatar Stars League numerous times. We will try our best to defend our colours.”
Goalkeepers: Sadd al Sheeb, Meshaal Barsham, Yousef Abdullah; Defenders: pedro Miguel, Abdelkarim Hassan, Tarek Salman, Hamid Khaleefa, Boualem Khoukhi, Hussain Bahzad, Yasir Isa; Midfielders: Jung Wooyoung, Ali Assadalla, Gabi, Salem al Hajri, Moustafa Tarek, Faisal Mohammad; Forwards: Abdulaziz Rashid al Ansari, Hassan al haydos, Baghdad Bounedjah, Nam Tae-hee, Hashim Ali, Akram Afif, Rami Suhail.
Coach: Xavi Heranandez.
Goalkeepers: Rocky Nyikeine, Yeiwene Yeiwene, Jacque Nyiekeine; Defenders: Joris Gorendiawe, Williams Yentao, Bruno Hyanem, Jordan Dinet, Roy Kayara, Emile Bearune, Franck Sinem, Yvannoe Bamy; Midfielders: Cedric Sansot, Geordy Gony, Miguel Kayara, Kohei Matsumoto, Kevin Tein, Joseph Athale, Dos Santos Camargo, Sousa Vilela; Forwards: Antony Kai, Jefferson Dahite, Bertrand Kai, Amy Roine.
Coach: Felix Tagawa.