Al Sadd coach Jorge Fossati yesterday said his much-maligned team overcame lies and attempts to create a “negative atmosphere” before lifting the AFC Champions League title in a memorable final.
The experienced Uruguayan handler told reporters he didn’t sleep all night after celebrations with his Qatari team, who edged South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on penalties in their home stadium in Jeonju, South Korea.
It was a remarkable victory since Al Sadd came through pre--qualifying and then had two -players suspended after an astonishing mass brawl that marred their semi-final first leg with South Korean side Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
And the Doha club showed grit on Saturday when they recovered from the setback of Jeonbuk’s injury-time equalizer to battle through extra time and then held their nerve in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
Fossati, the former Uruguay and Qatar coach who began his second spell with Al Sadd this season, said victory was all the sweeter because of the criticism they faced over the semi-final punch-up.
“People tried to create a negative atmosphere to disrupt us ... it didn’t work, we won the cup,” he said. “People said things about my players, but inside I think they know they were untrue ... particularly about [Abdul Kader] Keita.”
Keita received a one-match ban after the fight, sparked when Al Sadd scored while Suwon were tending to an injured player.
However, he returned in the final to force an own goal and score another as the teams were locked at 2-2 after 120 minutes.
And goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr’s two-save heroics in the shoot-out clinched a lengthy and eventful Asian championship for Al Sadd, which began in February when they hammered Syria’s Al Ittihad 5-1 in their first preliminary game.
Also during their rollercoaster ride, Al Sadd were virtually gifted a place in the semis when Iran’s Sepahan were given a 3-0 forfeit — erasing a 1-0 win — in the first leg of their quarter-final for fielding an ineligible player.
“We had to go through pre-qualifying so this has been a long journey,” Fossati said, before boarding a plane out of South Korea. “My players didn’t think they could win when we started, but they believed stage by stage.”
“I felt [eventually] that we could do something very special, but you go slowly in a competition like this, never looking too far ahead,” he said.
He added that the 12-time Qatari champions, who won the Champions League’s pre-cursor, the Asian Club Championship, in 1989, also faced the hurdle of having many national team players unavailable for long periods.
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) acting president Zhang Jilong sent his congratulations for the win, which refocused attention on the pitch after a year of behind-the-scenes upheaval.
Zhang was elevated after Asian boss Mohamed bin Hammam was banned from soccer over claims he bribed FIFA delegates, while South Korean soccer has been reeling from revelations of widespread match-fixing.
Al Sadd’s win ended a five-year stranglehold on the title by South Korean and Japanese teams and put them through to next month’s Club World Cup in Japan as Asia’s continental champions.