Doha, Qatar: Al Sadd were nowhere near their relentless, breathless form that helped them outgun Al Nassr in the AFC Champions League quarterfinals last Monday, but they did just enough to snatch all three points from a fighting Umm Salal in the Qatar Stars League on Friday.
Akram Afif’s neat finish and Baghdad Bounedjah’s penalty, both in the first half, were enough for Sadd for a 2-1 victory, but the reigning champions had to withstand continuous pressure from Umm Salal, for whom Mahmoud Almawas was at his menacing best.
Almawas, however, was guilty of missing a host of chances and Xavi would be delighted with the result, especially it came against a tough team and after an energy-sapping AFC match.
Sadd, playing in a new sky blue jersey, started in customary fashion with Hassan Al Haydous drawing a save from Yazan Naim after a patient move in the seventh minute, but two minutes later they were a goal down.
Almawas won back the ball from makeshift defender Salim Al Hajri, featuring in place of Tarek Salman who was on the bench, and cut it back for Yannick Sagbo who’s shot was too hot to handle for Saad Al Sheeb.
Sagbo came close to scoring another when his first-time volley off a beautiful cross sailed over the bar.
The most important aspect of this Sadd team is their attacking prowess and Al Haydous picked Akram Afif with a superb ball over the defence and the Qatar forward finished it off in style to make it 1-1.
Sadd took the lead in the 32nd after a clumsy tackle on Baghdad Bounedjah by Adil Rhaili inside the box. Though Rhaili disputed referee Mohammed Al Shammari’s decision to award Sadd a penalty it was indeed a penalty and Bounedjah blasted home to make it 2-1.
Afif came close to making it three but could not get hold of his shot and Yazan Naim managed to save it.
Though Sadd regained their guile in attack after the opening lull, without Pedro and Salman, their defence looked a bit shaky, especially against the dangerous Sagbo and Almawas.
And Sagbo easily got behind the defense and cut the ball back from the byline for Almawas, whose shot needed a fine save from Al Sheeb.
Umm Salal had an immediate chance to equalise as Sagbo pulled the ball back for Almawas from the right byline, but Almawas’s shot was saved by Al Sheeb.
For all their bite in the attack, Umm Salal defence, particularly on the right side, was next to non-existent and Sadd had two chances in two minutes with Gabi drawing a save from Naim and Bounedjah holding on to the ball for too long.
Umm Salal continued to test Sadd defence in the second half as Almawas made a surging run into the box before being foiled by a last-ditch tackle from Abdelkarim Hassan.
From the resulting corner, Rhaili, easily the tallest player on the pitch, headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
Sadd also had a chance as Afif’s shot from an acute angle flashed across the goal-line just out of reach of an onrushing Baghdad.
Almawas drew another save from Al Sheeb while minutes later his shot was deflected as Umm Salal looked for an equaliser.
Sadd too were looking dangerous in the opposition half as Hashim Ali’s curler was headed clear on the goalline before al Haydous drew a smart save from Naim.
Sadd looked the more dangerous towards the end as Bounedjah’s header from close range was saved by Naim while Al Haydous drove his shot wide in added time.
But it did not matter much in the end as Sadd took all three points.
Xavi’s men, who have nine points from three matches, take on Al Sailiya on Tuesday and could be leading the table when they meet Al Arabi next Friday.
In the second match on Friday, Kara Mbodji scored the winner in the 89th minute as Al Sailiya defeated Qatar SC, who finished with 10 men after El Mehdi Barrahma saw his second yellow and marching orders in the 85th.