|Al Sadd qualified for the tournament by winning the Asian Champions League after a 4-2 penalty shootout against South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors in the final [GALLO/GETTY]|
Qatar’s Al Sadd will play Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup after the Asian champions stunned Esperance of Tunisia 2-1 on Sunday in an entertaining encounter in Japan.
Newly-crowned Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol will play Santos in the other semi as they beat Monterrey of Mexico on penalties in front of a crowd of 27,525, after the game ended 1-1 after 120 minutes.
It means Asian sides have now won all five meetings against African teams at the tournament of continental champions.
More importantly for Al Sadd it gives them the chance to test themselves against the sublime Catalans.
The Tunisians, spurred on by their small but rowdy following, had the better of the opening 20 minutes and striker Yannick Ndjeng came within a whisker of scoring the opener when his arrowed cross-shot pinged back off a post.
Al Sadd could barely string a pass together and could not get out of their own half as a scrappy first period wore on at a less than half-full Toyota Stadium, which holds 36,000 people.
The Asian champions’ goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr was kept busy, saving smartly from Youssef Msakni before Esperance captain Ousama Darragi scuffed the rebound wastefully wide.
But against the run of play the side from Doha took a shock lead in the 33rd minute.
With Esperance sleeping, former Lyon forward Abdul Kader Keita unleashed a powerful shot that goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia could only flap at, allowing Khalfan Al Khalfan to steam in and head into an empty net.
It was Al Sadd’s first attempt on goal and typical of the kind of sucker-punch that they perfected in their unexpected run to the Asian Champions League title.
Esperance looked shocked going into the break, but just four minutes after half-time Africa’s finest somehow found themselves further behind – once again caught napping at a set-piece.
Former Portsmouth man Nadir Belhadj swept in a free-kick that South Korean Lee Jung-Soo headed back across goal, and there, totally unmarked, was his fellow defender and captain Abdullah Koni to gleefully score from close range.
Two efforts, two goals for the side in all white.
But on the hour Esperance, who like Al Sadd were making their debut at the Club World Cup, struck back when the highly rated Darragi headed past an unsighted Saqr from another set-piece.
Esperance were back in it. They twice had the ball in the net but were clearly offside both times, while substitute Harrison Afful was denied a strong claim for a penalty.
With minutes left on the clock Oualid Hichri shot tamely at Saqr when he should have scored.