European kings await Qatar football team in semi-final of Club World Cup in Japan
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 later.
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 Thursday.
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 them."
The final takes place in Yokohama on December 18.For all the latest sports news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.