Al Sadd's starting players
Al Sadd's starting players (front L-R) Khalfan Al Khalfan, Kasola Mohammed, Talal Albloushi, Nadir Belhadj and Lee Jung-Soo, (rear L-R) Mamadou Niang, Kader Keita, Ibrahim Abdulmajed, Wesam Abdulmajid, Mohamed Saqr and Abdulla Koni pose in a photo session prior to their FIFA Club World Cup quarter-final match against Esperance in Toyota, Aichi prefecture on December 11. © Toshifumi Kitamura - AFP/File
Al Sadd's starting players
Peter Stebbings, AFP
Last updated: December 13, 2011

Al Sadd - Asian champions, made in Africa

They might be the champions of Asia, but the Qatari side Al Sadd, who face Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup on Thursday, are very much made in Africa.

Ivory Coast international Abdul Kader Keita made the first goal and the Senegal-born Abdullah Koni scored what turned out to be the winner Sunday as Al Sadd battled past Esperance -- the African champions -- for a date with Barca.

Also instrumental to the side from Doha is Keita's forward partner Mamadou Niang, a Senegalese international who was far from his best at the weekend but like Koni and Keita played a key part in Al Sadd's run to the Asian title.

And then there is flying left full-back Nadir Belhadj, an Algerian international who impressed in the English Premier League with Portsmouth and who had a hand in Koni's all-important second in the Japanese city of Toyota.

Others from Africa include the goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr, the hero of Al Sadd's Asian champions league victory last month, where he kept the South Koreans Jeonbuk Motors at bay to take the tie to penalties.

Like his captain Koni, the agile Saqr is from Senegal but plays his international football for Qatar.

Belhadj was the other hero in South Korea, sealing the Asian crown when he held his nerve to net the winning penalty in the shoot-out.

The French-born Belhadj, 29, attracted the attentions of Barcelona three years ago with his pacy performances at Portsmouth and has frequently been linked in the British press since with a return to the Premier League.

Underlining the cosmopolitan make-up of Jorge Fossati's side, who defied the pundits in making the Asian final, press conferences in Japan have needed an army of Arabic, English, French, Japanese and Spanish translators.

Fossati, a 59-year-old who previously coached Qatar and his native Uruguay, denied he ever had a problem getting his message across to his players -- an assertion results back up.

"I don't want an interpreter (in the changing room)," he said in Spanish, his first language.

"The players understand my English, although some can't. But football is a common language."

Despite playing for the Qatar national side, the defensive stalwart Koni, 32, has clearly not forgotten his roots.

"I'm from Senegal, so I remember that Japan helped us when we were in trouble," he said on the nine-month anniversary of the March 11 earthquake in Japan that left 20,000 people dead or missing.

"I'd like to give something in return and will do as much as I can on the pitch to achieve that."

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