Bengaluru, October 23: Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal survived a miraculous fightback from Qatar's Al Sadd to book their place in the AFC Champions League final, progressing 6-5 on aggregate despite a 2-4 second-leg home defeat.
Having won 4-1 in the first leg away , Al Hilal extended their advantage further at Riyadh's King Saud University Stadium when Salem Al Dawsari converted a cross 13 minutes in.
Al Sadd refused to give up, though, with Akram Afif converting a penalty after being fouled inside the box and Nam Tae-hee rounding off an attack he had initially started to give Xavi's men more than a little hope.
Nam played a key part in the visitors' third goal, rounded off by Hassan Al Haydos, as the score was suddenly 5-4 on aggregate after just 20 minutes of the second leg.
Bafetimbi Gomis appeared to kill off Al Sadd's comeback bid when converting Sebastian Giovinco's cross five minutes later.
It remained that way until the 93rd minute when Boualem Khoukhi headed home a corner, but Al Hilal held on to progress.
FT: Al Hilal 🇸🇦 2 - 4 🇶🇦 Al Sadd— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) October 22, 2019
Al Sadd come out on the top tonight with a hard fought victory but it's Al Hilal that go through to the Finals of the #ACL2019 as they withheld the early onslaught and a late scare from the visitors.#HILvSDD pic.twitter.com/Cwv0e97vkD
Despite the loss Barcelona legend Xavi said he was proud of the way his team fought and remarked that his side were more deserving to go through to the final.
🎙️ Post-match reaction | Xavi— AlSadd S.C | نادي السد (@AlsaddSC) October 22, 2019
◽️ I am proud of my team, we were more deserving to go through
◽️ This game deserved to be a final and not a semi-final, as it is one for the history books of Asia
Read: https://t.co/xKUYye2NM1#AlSadd #HILvSDD #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/5e34GvXRhZ
"It was a great game from both teams, which was worthy of a semifinal," Xavi told reporters at the post-match press conference.
"We were better in the first and second legs. I'm proud of my team and I'm also disappointed because we deserved to be in the final."
He added: "We played with the same manner as in the first leg. The result was only because the red card. Today we played with our identity, but it was only the first leg result that made things difficult for us. We tried to give our best but luck wasn't in our favour. We must continue working and learn from our mistakes. Today's match showed that we're a big team with character. We must learn the lessons for the next season."
Xavi also spoke about how the absence of Baghdad Bounedjah and Abdelkarim Hassan affected the team, but added that "the team put up a great performance."
The coach further remarked: "This game deserved to be a final and not a semi-final, as it is a game for the history books of Asia."
Hilal face the winners of the Guangzhou Evergrande-Urawa Red Diamonds semifinal, with the first leg taking place in Riyadh on November 9.
(With OPTA/Al Sadd Media inputs)