Doha, Qatar: Qatar’s Al Sadd and Al Duhail are up against tough opposition as they start their AFC Champions League campaign on Tuesday.
Reigning Qatar Stars League champions Sadd take on Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr at Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, in Group D.
Sadd met Nassr in the quarterfinal last year, and although they lost in the first leg, the Xavi Hernandez-coached side turned on the style to beat the Saudi Arabian’s 3-1 in the return leg in Doha.
They were extremely disappointed to crash out in the semis despite beating eventual champions Al Hilal 4-2 away, as they had lost the first leg 4-1 at home, but Xavi would be hoping that this time they don’t make the same mistakes.
Sadd have shown irresistible form at times when they proved virtually unplayable, and if they can bring in a bit more of consistency into their game, they could mount another title challenge this year.
The absence of young midfielder Salem Al Hajri, who is out for the season after suffering an ankle injury, is a big blow, but Xavi has plenty of options at his disposal.
Nam Tae Hee is slowly but surely getting back to his best, while star striker Bounedjah is prepared to work extra hard under the Barcelona legend.
Sadd midfielder Mohamed Waad said the team was prepared to give their best.
“The game against Al Nassr is very important for us, and we must play with a great spirit to achieve a positive result at the beginning of the campaign. Al Nassr are a strong team and are playing at home, and we must give our best performance in the match.”
Al Ain and Sepahan FC are also in Group D, but Nassr could be their toughest opponents in the first phase and Xavi would be eager to start on a positive note.
Duhail, meanwhile, will take on Iranian side Persepolis at home.
They acquired the services of Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic from Juventus and coach Walid Regragui, who took up the reins after Rui Faria left last month, would be hoping that the Croat find his touch.
Though Duhail still lead the Qatar Stars League standings, they are from their fluent best and a good performance against Persepolis would certainly give them a big lift, in the continental championship as well as in the domestic campaign.