When everything seems to be working against you, then you turn to the basics and try to do the best thing you can to find a breakthrough. That was exactly the case with Al Sadd, who underwent a roller-coaster campaign in the AFC Champions League before claiming an unlikely victory on penalties against Jeonbuk Motors in the final earlier this month.
The Qatari club had overcome Iran's Sepahan and Suwon Bluewings of Korea Republic en route to the showdown in Jeonju, where they kept the hosts at bay with an impressive display of defensive football while converting a couple of counter-attacks with clinical finishing. At the core of their stubborn rearguard were captain Abdulla Koni and Lee Jung-Soo, both of whom were virtually ever-present as the Qatari giants claimed their second Asian crown. FIFA.com caught up with the central defensive duo, while their team-mates were still celebrating in the dressing room.
“I’m very happy because for a long time I’ve been working for this club, and we've worked so hard with many young players united as a team. We’d lost so many times before and we were determined to win the cup this time around," said Koni, who has also played international football for Qatar.
"It was not easy, especially because we played away from home, in front of their supporters in their own backyard. In a sense they were twelve players, not eleven, with their fans behind them," Koni recalled. "But all of our players were fighting against them all the time, as I told them ‘this is the way to get something.’ It’s not easy, either, in life to get something. I thank them because they worked hard to get the job done.”
Lee echoed his partner's view when he said: “We have fought hard on our way to the final and then had to beat the boos from the home fans, but I’m happy because I could put all the troubles throughout the tournament behind with the victory.”
Through thick and thin
In fact, it was not the first homecoming for the Korea Republic centre-back this season, as Lee had made a unpleasant return to his former club Bluewings for the semi-final first leg in Suwon. There he was in an unique situation during a melee after the visitors had taken a two-goal lead, left alone in between two groups of players.
However, Lee's neutral stance in that particular incident did not cost him the faith of his partner on him, as Koni testified: "He’s a very nice guy. I’ve learnt something from him since we’ve played together for two seasons now. He’s a nice player and very polite. We’re at the same age but I learnt something from him because he’s a nice guy and I like him so much. He’s the man.”
Aside from the friendship, Koni knows what it takes to become a good team through his experience. “Thank god we don’t have an important player in our team. All are the same. Each one respects another one, and each one works for another one,” he said. “We don’t have someone like [Lionel] Messi in our team. We are eleven. Even the coach, the players, everybody is important. No one is more important than another.”
On this, however, Lee had a slightly different idea when asked about the strengths of his side. “As you’ve witnessed through our games, our performances are based on the pattern of strong defence and counter-attack,” Lee explained. “Mamadou Niang, who arrived this season, is the key player and Kader Keita as well, because they can hold the ball up front. Once we do our job in defence, they do their job of scoring goals. It’s that simple.”
But the duo agreed on the uphill task ahead, as Al Sadd are about to set out on their maiden journey to the FIFA Club World Cup next month.
“It will be very difficult, but we are a young team. We have to learn, we have to prepare, and we also have to fight,” Koni admitted. “We’re not the favourites, so we just go out there and play. But if we play hard and work hard who knows what will happen, only God decides.”
Lee added: “I think it’s an honour to play against such world-class players from all around the world, and in the mean time we need to do our homework and think about how we should deal with the pressure.”