Al Sadd defender Lee Jung-Soo
Al Sadd defender Lee Jung-Soo during an AFC Champions League match in May 25. Asian champions Al Sadd will debut in the Club World Cup knowing that victory in their opening game against Tunisia's Esperance will set up a dream semi-final against the mighty Barcelona. © Karim Jaafar - AFP/File
Al Sadd defender Lee Jung-Soo
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Peter Stebbings, AFP
Last updated: December 11, 2011

Al Sadd eye dream date with Barca

Asian champions Al Sadd will debut in the Club World Cup knowing that victory in their opening game against Tunisia's Esperance will set up a dream semi-final against the mighty Barcelona.

The dogged Qataris earned their spot among the world's elite when they upset Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on penalties in the South Koreans' own backyard last month, capping a remarkable run to the Asian title that few had predicted.

Central to continental glory -- the second time the team from Doha has been crowned Asia's finest -- was their cohesion and defensive resilience. They also have pace to burn in flying winger Nadir Belhadj.

The bedrock of the side are no-nonsense captain Abdullah Koni and his partner in central defence, the South Korean Lee Jung-Soo, both virtual ever-presents in Al Sadd's AFC Champions League campaign.

Qatari international Koni said in the emotional aftermath of final glory in South Korea that the lack of a superstar was Al Sadd's strength.

"Thank God we don't have an important player in our team. All are the same. Each one respects another one, and each one works for another one," he said. "We don't have someone like (Barcelona's Lionel) Messi in our team. We are 11. Even the coach, the players, everybody is important. No one is more important than another."

Koni, 32, whose side takes on the African champions Esperance on December 11 at the seven-team Club World Cup, which features the winners of each continent, knows few will expect his side to go far in Japan.

"It will be very difficult, but we are a young team. We have to learn, we have to prepare and we also have to fight," he said.

Few would dispute that the Qataris know how to scrap -- least of all Suwon Bluewings.

The showpiece Champions League semi-final first leg between Al Sadd and the South Koreans descended into an all-out brawl that involved players and coaches from both sides and briefly halted the game.

Al Sadd forwards Mamadou Niang and Abdul Kader Keita were handed one-match bans and missed the second leg, making the Qataris' 2-1 aggregate victory even more impressive.

"As you've witnessed through our games, our performances are based on the pattern of strong defence and counter-attack," said Koni's fellow defensive stalwart Lee.

"Mamadou Niang, who arrived this season, is the key player and Kader Keita as well because they can hold the ball up front. Once we do our job in defence, they do their job of scoring goals. It's that simple."

The African duo -- Niang is a Senegalese international and Keita plays for the Ivory Coast -- rely on service from Algerian Belhadj, the rapid wingback/winger who impressed in the English Premier League with Portsmouth.

On his day he can trouble the world's best and it would be no surprise if he were to make a return to England, if press reports are to be believed.

In the aftermath of his side's dramatic penalty shoot-out win against Jeonbuk, Al Sadd coach Jorge Fossati said the Qatari underdogs were looking to do far more in Japan than just make up the numbers.

Eyeing a date with Barcelona, the Uruguayan tactician told AFP that a high-profile clash against one of history's greatest club sides would be "a wonderful thing".

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