Asia's finest flexed
their muscles at the Club World Cup on Sunday with continental
champions Al Sadd of Qatar and Japanese title holders Kashiwa
Reysol battling into the semi-finals.
Al Sadd ground out a tempestuous 2-1 win over Tunisia's
Esperance in Toyota to advance to a dream semi-final against
European kings Barcelona.
Reysol then upset Mexico's Monterrey 4-3 in a nerve-jangling
penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw to earn a crack at
Libertadores Cup holders Santos.
Al Sadd took the lead against the run of play when Khalfan
Al Khalfan headed home after a powerful run down the right from
Kader Keita in the 33rd minute.
Three minutes into the second half, the Doha-based side
doubled their lead when captain Abdulla Koni swept home a Lee
Jung-soo knockdown from point-blank range.
Esperance grabbed a lifeline on the hour-mark when skipper
Oussama Darragi's flicked header crept in at the far post but he
gave his coach an earful after being substituted 10 minutes
The Tunisians twice had goals ruled out for offside in a
frantic final few minutes but ultimately paid for their
wastefulness in front of goal.
"Barcelona are the best team in the world but anything is
possible in football," said Al Sadd coach Jorge Fossati. "If we
stay humble and keep this spirit anything can happen."
Barcelona left for the Far East immediately after beating
Real Madrid 3-1 in Saturday's Clasico to leapfrog their bitter
rivals at the top of La Liga.
The Catalan giants, bidding to win the seven-team tournament
for the second time in three years, face Al Sadd in Yokohama on
Reysol became the third Japanese side after Urawa Reds in
2007 and Gamba Osaka in 2008 to reach the semi-finals, but they
did it the hard way as the match went to penalties.
Locked at 1-1 after extra-time, Ryohei Hayashi smashed home
the deciding spot-kick to send Reysol through to face South
American champions Santos on Wednesday.
"It's unbelievable," said Reysol right-back Hiroki Sakai,
who wore a wide grin when asked about coming face-to-face with
Brazil striker Neymar in the semi-finals.
"I'll probably have to mark him. I'll just be happy if I can
stop him somehow. It was our goal to play a big team here and we
want to beat Santos, but we want to enjoy the occasion."
Brazilian striker Leandro Domingues gave Reysol the lead
after 53 minutes, the J-League player of the year drilling a
superb right-foot volley into the top corner.
It took Monterrey only five minutes to equalise, however,
Chile striker Humberto Suazo ghosting into space at the far post
to ram home a cross from Cesar Delgado.
Suazo had earlier rattled the post and was a constant menace
but Reysol hung on, triggering wild scenes of jubilation after
Hayashi had unerringly buried his penalty.
"I think we deserved to win," said Reysol's Brazilian
manager Nelsinho. "Santos will be favourites but we have still
to play our best football, which we hope to produce against
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