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Monterrey v Al Sadd: Xavi embraces underdog tag as Rayados dream of Liverpool tie

By Ryan Benson

London, Dec 13: Al Sadd coach Xavi attempted to ease the pressure on his team ahead of their Club World Cup quarter-final with Monterrey on Saturday (December 14).

Xavi's side squeezed past Hienghene Sport of New Caledonia in their previous match, with the unfancied OFC Champions League winners forcing extra time after a thrilling 1-1 draw.

Tournament hosts Al Sadd ultimately had too much for Hienghene, claiming a 3-1 win after the additional 30 minutes, though the performance appeared to show cracks in the Qatari club's armour.

There is no doubt in Xavi's mind what the outcome should be in Saturday's encounter with historic Mexican club Monterrey, who he considers to be of a higher level than Al Sadd.

"I'll tell my players that we have nothing to lose when we face tough teams," he said. "We are seen as the losers and we have to take advantage of that.

"The pressure is with Monterrey. They are a bigger name and have players at a higher level than we are.

"But everything is possible and if you want to achieve success, you have to try to be better."

CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey begin their campaign with Saturday's match, having beaten bitter rivals Tigres UANL in the two-legged final of their region's biggest competition in April and May.

But then-coach Diego Alonso was sacked in September after Tigres exacted their revenge in Liga MX.

Antonio Mohamed took over for a second spell in charge and remains unbeaten with nine wins in 12 competitive matches, allowing the Rayados to come into the Club World Cup with momentum.

Mohamed is relishing the opportunity to go up against Xavi, whom he admires, though his focus remains fixed on a potential match-up with Liverpool.

"If Xavi the coach is 50 per cent as good as he was as a player, he is going to be really successful," Mohamed said. "It's an honour to play against him.

"I know he was the perfect player on and off the pitch. He was very talented. We have followed his team and he is making them emulate Barcelona's style.

"They control the ball and this is a challenge for us. We will test our will, our ability and the possibility to have the upper hand from a tactical point of view.

"To play Liverpool, we have to win. We have to win, if we don't then the Liverpool match doesn't exist. By saying that we're coming for everything, we are preparing everyone to compete."

Players to watch

Monterrey – Rogelio Funes Mori

Funes Mori has begun to show the talent he was said to possess during his formative years at River Plate since joining Monterrey from Benfica in 2015. An underwhelming stint in Europe – which included a loan to Eskisehirspor – is well behind him and the former Argentina youth international is flourishing with the Rayados in another fine campaign. He heads into the game with six goals in his past four matches and is Monterrey's top scorer in Liga MX with 11, six more than Vincent Janssen.

Al Sadd – Baghdad Bounedjah

In a match that had few positives for Al Sadd, given how they struggled for long periods against such an unfancied Hienghene side, Bounedjah did at least live up to his reputation. The sharpshooter opened the scoring with a well-taken volley in the first half and remained a threat, though he failed to add to his tally. Like Funes Mori, he has scored six times in his four most recent outings for club and country, though Bounedjah also netted an astonishing 39 in 22 Stars League matches last term.

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Story first published: Friday, December 13, 2019, 22:10 [IST]
Other articles published on Dec 13, 2019
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