x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Al Sadd's Abdullah Koni ready for Barca challenge at Club World Cup

Senegalese defender is asking for all the help and luck as the Qatar side play their biggest game against the European club champions at the Club World Cup.

Qatar's Al Sadd face the biggest challenge in their history on Thursday when they take on Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup.

And Abdullah Koni, the captain of the Asian champions, is keen for his team to put on a memorable performance for the supporters in Japan, where the tournament is being held after the previous two were staged in Abu Dhabi.

Despite playing for the Qatar national side, the defender Koni, 32, has not forgotten his roots. "I'm from Senegal, so I remember that Japan helped us when we were in trouble," he said on the nine-month anniversary of the March 11 earthquake in Japan.

"I'd like to give something in return and will do as much as I can on the pitch to achieve that."

Koni is not the only African in the Al Sadd side as the goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr is also from Senegal, and he too plays his international football for Qatar.

Abdul Kader Keita, the Ivory Coast international, made the first goal in the Doha side's victory over the African champions, Esperance of Tunisia, while his forward partner Mamadou Niang, a Senegalese international, played a key part in Al Sadd's run to the Asian title.

And then there is flying left-back Nadir Belhadj, an Algerian international who impressed in the English Premier League with Portsmouth.

The French-born Belhadj, 29, attracted the attention of Barcelona three years ago with his pacey performances at Portsmouth, and has frequently been linked in the British press with a return to England.

Underlining the cosmopolitan make-up of Jorge Fossati's side, press conferences in Japan have needed an army of Arabic, English, French, Japanese and Spanish translators.

But Fossati, who has coached Qatar and his native Uruguay, played down any team-talk difficulties, saying, "football is a common language".