Al Sadd Kick Off Asian Campaign with a Resounding Victory
Doha: Nadir Belhadj picked up where he left off in the 2011 AFC Champions League final as the Algerian midfielder was amongst the goals along with former AFC Player of the Year Khalfan Ibrahim and Brazilian Rodrigo Tabata as Qatar champions Al Sadd beat former finalists 3-1 in Wednesday’s Group D opener.
Ibrahim, who was crowned Asia’s top player in 2006, opened the scoring at Sheik Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium after just 18 minutes only for Mehdi Sharifi to equalise with 12 minutes remaining for 2007 finalists Sepahan.
But after Belhadj, who scored the decisive penalty as Al Sadd edged out Korea Republic’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the 2011 final, reclaimed the lead with three minutes remaining, Tabata added a third in stoppage time to seal a deserved win for the home side on their return to the competition.
Having missed the previous two editions of the AFC Champions League before winning the Qatar Stars League title in 2013, Al Sadd marked their return to the continental stage for the first time since claiming the 2011 title in fine style after just 18 minutes as Ibrahim ran onto Tabata’s slide-rule pass before guiding a fine sublime into the opposite corner.
And the home side should have added a second before the break as midfielder Hasan Al Haydos twice shot wide from promising positions either side of Saleh Al Yazidi being denied by Sepahan goalkeeper Rahman Ahmadi.
Sepahan were able to finish the opening 45 minutes with a flourish, but the visitors failed to convert that into a first genuine threat on goal.
But the visitors did have the ball in the net on the hour mark, only for the referee to spot a push by Hadi Aghili before Sharifi followed up after Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb had only parried a header from the visiting captain.
Sharifi, though, was not to be denied 18 minutes later as Al Sadd allowed the striker to drift into the area unmarked and the Sepahan frontman crisply dispatched Hossein Papi’s cross high into net from close to the penalty spot.
But with three minutes remaining Ibrahim laid the ball off for Belhadj on the edge of the penalty area for the Al Sadd captain to guide a first-time right-footed shot curling out of the reach of Sepahan goalkeeper Ahmadi.
And in the second minute of stoppage time Al Sadd sealed the win with another eye-catching effort as Tabata this time guided an exquisite shot post Ahmadi from just inside the penalty area following a similar lay-off by Al Haydos.