A high-octane encounter is on cards when hosts Al Ain take on Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal in the AFC Champions League quarter-final, first leg, at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Monday. The action kicks-off at 7.50pm.
Both teams are evenly matched as there is very little to choose between them.
Al Ain and Al Hilal have met seven times in the AFC Champions League and both sides have a strong record in matches played in their own backyards. Al Ain has won four while Al Hilal three.
They are also the only teams, along with Guangzhou Evergrande, who have reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League for the third time in the last four seasons.
However, this is the second time Al Ain will be meeting Al Hilal in the knockout stage; their previous meeting in the 2014 semi-finals ended in disappointment.
The purple brigade was knocked out of the tournament following a 3-0 away loss despite winning the first leg 2-1 at home.
The home team fans, as always, will be looking towards their star playmaker and favourite son of the soil Omar Abdul Rahman to deliver.
The mercurial midfielder has been in tremendous form this season in the AFC Champions League and is the top scorer (7 goals) and top assister (6) so far.
It will also be interesting to see how Al Ain’s Brazilian striker Douglas rises to this challenge and copes up with the pressure. The 29-year-old, who received a lot of criticism for missing a penalty in last year’s AFC Champions League final against South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, has been brought back by Boss.
Al Ain’s former coach Zlatko Dalic has welcomed the move in an interview with the-afc.com. He has backed Douglas to do well and felt that the striker didn’t deserve the ‘pressure’ from the fans.
The visitors will also have to be wary of another Brazilian Caio and new signing Marcus Berg from Sweden.
“We respect Al Hilal and we know what they are capable of. They have almost the same team from last year and from the start of pre-season we talked about Al Hilal. We did some things in training because of this match and each player is well aware of what to expect from this contest,” said Al Ain coach Zoran Mamić adding that Al Ain will try to play their own ‘style of play’.
Al Ain’s new recruit Berg was of the view that he has managed to settle well in the team and was looking forward to the challenge.
“I feel really very good from the first day I came here. The players are very open-minded and I felt welcomed straight away. I’m very much looking forward to a good game tomorrow,” said Berg.
Al Hilal, on the other hand, though they are the only team yet to lose a game alongside Kawasaki Frontale, will be looking to get their poor record straight, in their away matches in the knockout stage.
They have only managed one win in their 14 away games in the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League (Win 1, Draw 4, Lost 9).
Al Hilal, however, will be missing the services of their key attacking mid-fielder Nawaf Al Abed with a heart ailment. Al Abed has been instrumental in 21 goals and 27 assists in his nine year-long stint with Al Hilal and his absence would definitely hurt the side.
There is also a blow to their strike force with Uruguayan Nicolas Milesi too out, with injury, and the pressure will be on Syrian Omar Khribin and Brazilian Carlos Eduardo to deliver.
Al Hilal’s Argentinian coach Ramón Díaz, however, was upbeat about his team’s chances saying, “Al Ain is a big team but we want to win this contest. The match will be very nice with two offensive teams playing. We are here to get all the points and will not spare anything.”
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