DOHA (Qatar): Asian champions take on Saudi Arabia in what promises to be a cracker of a semifinal at the 24th Arab Gulf Cup here at the Al Janoub Stadium on Thursday.
The kick-off is at 8pm (local time).
The hosts has finished second in Group A while their opponents topped Group B.
The Saudis haven’t won the regional competition after 2003 while Qatar were champions in 2014 in Riyadh.
Both the sides will renew their rivalry after their face-off in group phase of 2019 AFC Asian Cup in January, with Qatar winning 2-0.
Interestingly, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia shook off their opening matches, which they lost, to bounce back into the competition strongly.
The semifinal is expected to be a sellout one, and Qatar will enjoy the support of their fans.
But Qatar coach Felix Sanchez opined that though playing in front of their fans is a plus, they won’t underestimate the Saudis.
“It’s always nice to play under pressure in front of your fans,” said the Spaniard. “We are playing against a strong team and everyone knows their quality. We’ve the confidence in our players, and ready to do well.”
The stupendous form of Asian Player of the Year Akram Afif will certainly boost the hosts. Against the UAE, the Villareal striker, who is playing on loan at Al Sadd, showed a lot of firepower.
Karim -- midfield general
Besides, Karim Boudiaf’s excellent workload in the midfield has helped Qatar overrun their opponents at the group phase.
The lanky Al Duhail midfielder has been one of the best players in this tournament, in terms of his work rate and deliverance.
It will be interesting to see how Felix uses him against the rejuvenated Saudis, who have only improved after their shock 3-1 defeat against Kuwait in their first group match on November 27.
Can Qatar backline stop Salem, Nawaf?
With the return of their Al Hilal players in the side, Saudi Arabia brooked no challenge and their convincing back-to-back wins revived their title chances.
Winger Salem Mohammed Al Dosari, who operates on the left, will be the man to watch out for, and Qatar right-back Pedro Miguel will have to really work hard to stop his scorching runs.
The 28-year-old Al Hilal winger, who has a great understanding with Nawaf Shaker Al Abid, orchestrate most of their team’s forays.
“I think in all the group games were different. We were upset after the first match, but the players showed good level. They tried their best after the defeat against Iraq,” added Felix.
On the secret of his team’s success since winning the Asian Cup, the former Aspire Academy youth coach said, “There’s no secret to success. The players are working very hard. They’re top professionals who want to excel as footballers.”
Follow Mohammad Aminul Islam on Twitter: @mdamins