Coach Jorge Fossati said his Al Sadd side had overcome “injustice” stemming from a foul-tempered semi-final after they became the first Qatari club to reach the Asian Champions League final.
Al Sadd will have their work cut out in the November 5 final against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who will be playing at home as they bid to keep Asia’s top club title in South Korean hands for the third year running.
Jeonbuk went through with a 2-1 victory over Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in Wednesday’s semi-finals, to make it 5-3 on aggregate. But fellow K-League team Suwon Samsung Bluewings were unable to make it an all-Korean final.
Although they beat Al Sadd 1-0 away, they went out 2-1 on aggregate after the Qatari side’s controversial 2-0 win in the first leg, when a mass brawl saw both teams trade punches in an ugly late-game melee.
The Asian Football Confederation suspended two Al Sadd players from the second leg, and one from Suwon.
“You know we had to play this game with big injustice. We didn’t have some players because of non-football issues,” Fossati said.
“In this situation, we tried to do our best with whatever resources we had,” the Uruguayan said.
Fossati said he would get down to work in analysing Jeonbuk in-depth as he strives to bring the Asian Champions League to Qatar for the first time, a decade before the small Gulf emirate is slated to host the 2022 World Cup.
Al Sadd have won the continental championship before, in 1989, but under a previous format.
“Today I want to enjoy this moment. Tomorrow we will start working for the final. We will try to bring the title to Qatar,” he said.
An all-Korean final looked on course when Suwon’s Oh Jang-Eun opened the scoring in Qatar with a brilliant sixth-minute strike.
But Al Sadd, missing suspended strikers Abdulkader Keita and Mamadou Niang, battened down the hatches and yielded just one more clear chance to Suwon which Mato Neretljak failed to make the most of.
Suwon’s coach Yoon Sung-Hyo said he was proud of his “jet-lagged” side’s gutsy effort but lashed out at both their opponents and the officiating.
“Al Sadd were resorting to delaying tactics. It was not fair play,” Yoon was quoted as saying by Thursday’s Sports Seoul daily. “The refereeing was also biased.”
At the Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Jeonbuk’s star was Brazilian forward Eninho, who scored two first-half goals for the newly crowned regular season K-League title winners.
Both sides ended with a man down, and the Saudi club played most of the game with 10 men. Striker Naif Hazazi, who scored two goals in the first leg, was sent off in only the 12th minute after an altercation with Cho Sung-Hwan.
Manager Choi Kang-Hee, who led Jeonbuk to the continental crown in 2006, said he was glad to have put in the hard work in Saudi Arabia and relished having home advantage in just over a week.
“We are at home for the final and that is an advantage for us. The lead we took from the first leg gave us some breathing space at home but we knew well that Al Ittihad are a very good team,” he said.
Jeonbuk will be without suspended captain Cho Sung-Hwan and striker Krunoslav Lovrek for the final, but tournament top-scorer Lee Dong-Gook, who has scored nine goals, could return from injury.
“Lee has been receiving treatment and will start training next week and if he does so then it will be possible for him to play,” manager Choi said. “We will check his progress and then make the decision.”