Qatar’s Al Sadd will play Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup after the Asian champions stunned Esperance of Tunisia 2-1 yesterday, sparking fan violence and a pitch invasion.
The Doha side’s win means Asian teams have won all five meetings against African opposition at the intercontinental tournament, but more importantly Al Sadd will now be able test themselves against the sublime Catalans on Thursday.
The other major talking point will be how an irate Esperance fan managed to jump the barrier by the pitch and make for Al Sadd goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr, before being dragged to the ground just meters away from him.
There were several other disturbances in the stands at the state-of-the-art Toyota Stadium at the end of an entertaining game, as furious Esperance fans clashed with police and stewards.
Esperance supporters and players were left seething at Chilean referee Enrique Osses after they had two “goals” ruled out for offside and a strong claim for a penalty, all in the dying minutes.
The Africans’ coach Nabil Maaloul apologized for the violence.
“I’m really sorry. Sometimes that happens. Tunisia and Al Sadd are sisters, but of course this should not happen,” he said.
Al Sadd’s Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati was more focused on Barcelona, saying it was a “dream” to take on the European champions.
“This victory tonight was a milestone,” Fossati said. “This was really important, not just for me, but for the players. Barcelona are the best team in the world and it will be the most difficult challenge in the players’ careers.”
Spurred on by their small, but rowdy following, the Tunisians had the better of the opening 20 minutes and striker Yannick Ndjeng came within a whisker of scoring the opener when his cross-shot pinged off a post.
Al Sadd could barely string a pass together and could not get out of their own half as a scrappy first half wore on.
Saqr was kept busy, saving smartly from Youssef Msakni, before Esperance captain Ousama Darragi scuffed the rebound wastefully wide, but the Qataris took a shock lead in the 33rd minute.
With Esperance sleeping, former Olympique Lyonnais forward Abdul Kader Keita unleashed a powerful shot that goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia could only flap at, allowing Khalfan Al Khalfan to steam in and head into an empty net.
It was Al Sadd’s first attempt on goal and it was typical of the kind of sucker-punch that they perfected in their unexpected run to the Asian Champions League title.
Esperance looked shocked going into the break, but just four minutes after halftime Africa’s finest somehow found themselves further behind — once again caught napping at a set-piece.
Former Portsmouth man Nadir Belhadj swept in a free-kick that South Korean Lee Jung-soo headed back across goal, and there, totally unmarked, was his fellow defender and captain Abdullah Koni to gleefully score from close range.
Two efforts, two goals for the side in all white, but on the hour, Esperance, who like Al Sadd were making their debut at the Club World Cup, struck back when the highly-rated Darragi headed past an unsighted Saqr from another set-piece.
Esperance were back in it. They twice had the ball in the net, but both efforts were deemed offside, while substitute Harrison Afful was denied a strong claim for a penalty.
With minutes left on the clock, Oualid Hichri shot tamely at Saqr when he should have scored.