Al Sadd coach Jorge Fossati Sunday said his much-maligned team overcame lies and attempts to create a “negative atmosphere” before lifting the AFC Champions League title in a memorable final.
The experienced Uruguayan handler told AFP he didn’t sleep all night after celebrations with his Qatari team, who edged South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on penalties in their home stadium in Jeonju.
It was a remarkable victory since Al Sadd came through pre-qualifying and then had two players suspended after an astonishing mass brawl that marred their semi-final first leg with Korean side Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
And the Doha club showed grit on Saturday when they recovered from the setback of Jeonbuk’s injury-time equaliser to battle through extra time and then held their nerve in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
Fossati, the former Uruguay and Qatar coach who began his second spell with Al Sadd this season, said victory was all the sweeter because of the criticism they faced over the semi-final punch-up.
“People tried to create a negative atmosphere to disrupt us… it didn’t work, we won the cup,” he said.
“People said things about my players, but inside I think they know they were untrue… particularly about (Abdul Kader) Keita.”
Keita received a one-match ban after the fight, sparked when Al Sadd scored while Suwon were tending to an injured player.
But he returned in the final to force an own goal and score another as the teams were locked at 2-2 after 120 minutes.
And goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr’s two-save heroics in the shoot-out clinched a lengthy and eventful Asian championship for Al Sadd, which began in February when they hammered Syria’s Al Ittihad 5-1 in their first preliminary game.
Also during their rollercoaster ride, Al Sadd were virtually gifted a place in the semis when Iran’s Sepahan were given a 3-0 forfeit — erasing a 1-0 win — in the first leg of their quarter-final for fielding an ineligible player.
“We had to go through pre-qualifying so this has been a long journey,” Fossati said, before boarding a plane out of South Korea. “My players didn’t think they could win when we started, but they believed stage by stage.
“I felt (eventually) that we could do something very special, but you go slowly in a competition like this, never looking too far ahead.”
He added that the 12-time Qatari champions, who won the Champions League’s pre-cursor, the Asian Club Championship, in 1989, also faced the hurdle of having many national team players unavailable for long periods.
“The players overcame all the problems we have faced, not enough time to prepare… disruptions for our team before the final, these things didn’t allow us to work we they way I like,” Fossati said.
“But we have the trophy. The players have big hearts and can be proud. They can now believe they can overcome anything. This is great for us, but also Qatar.
“I’m very happy, every time I win a big trophy it feels like the first time.”
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) acting president Zhang Jilong sent his congratulations for the win, which refocused attention on the pitch after a year of behind-the-scenes upheaval.
“The final match of the AFC Champions League completely lived up to expectations. It was a very fast game and the best advertisement possible for Asian football at this level,” he said.
Zhang was elevated after Asian boss Mohamed bin Hammam was banned from football over claims he bribed FIFA delegates, while Korean football has been reeling from revelations of widespread match-fixing.
“It’s very frustrating to lose in such a situation, playing at home. We wanted to show the power of the K-League. We’re very sad but I tell you our players gave everything,” said Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-Hee.
Al Sadd’s win ended a five-year stranglehold on the title by Korean and Japanese teams, and put them through to December’s Club World Cup in Japan as Asia’s continental champions.