I-League champions Dempo Sports Club will be facing Qatar Stars League side Al Sadd in the 2011 AFC Champions League playoff on Saturday, February 19 to qualify for the lucrative continental club tournament. Since the revamp and professionalisation of the Champions League by the AFC no Indian club has been able to qualify for the group stage.
And Dempo's task is quite a difficult one as the Goans will have to travel to Doha to face Al Sadd at their home venue, which only last month played host to India's matches against Australia and Bahrain in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. And hopefully like in those matches the Indian fans will come out to support the I-league champions.
Dempo SC had been given a first round qualifier bye and on Saturday would face Al Sadd, who had beaten Syria's Al Ittihad 5-1 on February 12. Only the winner would make it to the AFC Champions League group stage and the West Zone winners have been drawn in Group B along with Iran's Esteghlal, Al Nassr from Saudi Arabia and Pakhtakor from Uzbekistan; while the losers go to the AFC Cup and would face Al Qadsia (Kuwait), Al Saqr (Yemen) and Shurtan (Uzbekistan) there. Both interesting, but tough groups for Dempo.
Dempo coach Armando Colaco had emphasised over the last few months that his big ambition is to qualify as the first club from India for the Asian Champions League. Two year ago Dempo lost 0-3 against Sharjah FC, but this year they would hope for a better result.
Dempo go into the qualifier on the back of a 2-0 Goan derby win against Churchill Brothers SC in the I-League on Saturday. So hopefully they can carry that momentum into this game against an Al Sadd side which comes into the game on a high.