19 May 2017 - 8:00
Clash of the titans as Al Sadd, Al Rayyan eye Emir Cup glory
By Rizwan Rehmat / The Peninsula
There could be no bigger football stage than this in Qatar: Doha giants Al Sadd taking on the game's powerhouse and arch-rivals Al Rayyan in the final of the Emir Cup is what every fan has been waiting for since the event began last month.
Coached by Portuguese Jesualdo Ferreira, Al Sadd will look to add another title to their 15 Emir Cup trophies today when they hit the playing surface at Qatar's iconic sports venue, the Khalifa International Stadium.
Six-time champions Al Rayyan, coached by popular Dane Michael Laudrup, are keen to end the season with a trophy after missing out on the Qatar Stars League and Qatar Cup.
Laudrup's boys will also look to stop Al Sadd - the Qatar Cup champions - from winning their second major tournament of the season.
A full-house is expected at the refurbished Khalifa International Stadium and battles within a battle are certain to entertain those watching the proceedings from the comfort of their living rooms.
Al Sadd will be captained by Barca legend Xavi Hernandez while his counterpart and feared striker Rodrigo Tabata is set to lead his team today at Qatar's first 2022 FIFA World Cup stadium.
Ageless Xavi, who guided the Wolves to Qatar Cup glory last month, has been in the best form for Al Sadd in two years, scoring 10 goals and assisting in 16 other strikes this season.
Former Espanyol striker Sergio Garcia is set to renew his La Liga rivalry with Xavi while Al Sadd striker Hassan Al Haydos will be keen to exhibit the kind of form that makes him a certainty in all Qatar national team matches.
Al Rayyan's veteran forward Sebastian Soria would look to perhaps wind up his distinguished career with the Emir Cup glory.
Al Sadd's Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah - who struck four goals in his team's 4-0 rout of Al Kharaitiyat in the quarter-finals - could be the key for Ferreira's men.
Tabata, the Qatar national team striker, yesterday said his team could realistically end the 2016-17 football season with a trophy.
"I trust my team to do well. We can play at a good level. God Willing we will win," the 35-year-old striker warned Al Sadd.
"It is a new game. We are keen to play in this final. I can say 100 times that this is the game we want to win. We are proud to have reached the final. It will be a fantastic game but also a tough clash as Al Sadd is a strong side," he added.
Al Rayyan coach Laudrup, who helped Lekhwiya win the QSL title two years ago, admitted his team was treating the one-off game as the season's biggest battle.
"Tomorrow is a big final. For every player or coach, a Cup final is huge. It is a one-off game. You can have the trophy if you win this one game. A lot is riding on one game," Laudrup said yesterday.
"I can assure that we will do everything from our side to make this a great game for us. Winning the trophy means a lot to this club and to our fans."
"You have to show good form and in the last game, we beat the QSL champions (Lekhwiya). It was a very tough game. Now we are here," Laudrup said.
"It will be the first time we will play at this fantastic venue. Everybody is looking forward to this football game. We expect a lot of fans coming in. It is up to us, the two teams need to make a great game," Laudrup said.
"We can plan as much as we like before the game but it is these guys (points to Tabata) and the three others on the bench who have to deal with it. I can't say who will play or not but we just have to be ready. You can always change a little tactic-wise," the 52-year-old said.
Ferreira, the Al Sadd coach, said yesterday: "The final is going to be one of the best games of the season. It is important for both teams since the two sides are very popular among the fans. The two teams have big number of fans."
He added: "We are only going to play to win. We have nothing else on our minds. We are going to step on the pitch thinking of winning this title. Al Sadd team deserves to be in the final. They did really well during the entire season by playing attractive football."
Al Sadd striker Al Haydos said: "This is an important game for us. The team is ready to close the season with another trophy. Winning means we will play in the AFC Champions League (next year)."
The final kicks off at 7.00pm while the fan zone activities will begin at least two hours before the start of the final, organisers said yesterday.
The stadium gates will be thrown open to the public at 3.30pm.