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BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: Al Rayyan start their 2011 AFC Champions League campaign with noticeable concerns in defense as the Qatari club takes on the might of Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab in the Group C match.
Al Rayyan, one of three Qatari clubs taking part in the region’s showpiece football event, will miss the services of ace defenders Abdulrehman Mesbah and Meshal Mubaraq, both nursing injuries sustained in Qatar Stars League (QSL) matches.
“Yes, we have injury concerns going into this match,” Al Rayyan coach Paulo Autuori said yesterday, just one day ahead of the clash which takes place at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium at 6.15pm.
“This is an event in which teams need experienced players while playing tough sides like Shabab. Unfortunately we have some injured players so this makes our start (somewhat) difficult,” Brazilian said.
“Shabab made it to the semifinals last season. Obviously they are a good side with experience on their side,” the Al Rayyan coach pointed out.
“But we have enthusiasm on our bench. The replacement players have an average age of 19 years but they are keen to go out there and perform,” Autuori said. “We will rely on their youthful energy to produce the results,” he added.
Al Rayyan midfielder Younes Ali said starting in the playing XI in any AFC Champions League match is the motivation for his team mates.
“This is a tournament which all players look forward to. This is the best event in Asia. All players want to make a mark in the AFC Champions League. It is the same with my players. We have trained well. We have a plan,” Ali said.
Al Shabab coach Enzo Hector said he was looking forward to his second visit to Doha.
“This is my second visit to Qatar. I was here with Ittehad when we played Al Gharafa and now we are playing Al Rayyan, a side with many top overseas players (like Fabio Ceasar, Rodrigo Tabata and Itamar Da Silva). I think they are a distinguished side. And they are managed by a man (Autuori) who is very experienced. I think we will see an exciting game,” Hector said yesterday.
“For us, we are looking at the knockout stages of this tournament. That’s our first goal,” Hector said when asked about his goals in the new AFC Champions League. “That’s what we are looking at right now,” he added.
For Al Shabab’s Marcelo Tavares, the Doha match holds a great significance: the 30-year-old Brazilian returns to his former home at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium where he played for two seasons (2009-2010) before moving to neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
“I think playing against Al Rayyan will be a challenge. Only top teams play this event and they are a top side. It won’t be easy. I saw their (QSL) game against Al Khor (on February 26). It was a great game and showed how they fight. It is a very important match for us,” Tavares said yesterday.
“We have (Saudi Arabia’s) national team players and Al Rayyan has (Qatar’s) national team players. So, this is a match between two equal teams,” Tavares said. Hector said Al Shabab will miss striker Alhassane Keita who is out with an injury. “But we have replacements who will do their best,” Hector said.