Al Ahli have already created their own bit of history after becoming only the second team from the UAE — 2003 champions Al Ain being the other — to make it to the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League.
The Red Knights won 1-0 away and then secured a 2-1 win at home against Naft, Tehran in their two-legged quarter-finals earlier this month. The hero for the Dubai side was their new Brazilian marksman Rodrigo Lima as he scored the only goal of the away match and then pumped in a long-range effort in the home game to be second on the scorer’s list with two goals from as many matches.
However, standing in their way are Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, who are targeting a second successive appearance in the AFC Champions League final. Last year, the former two-time Asian Club Championship winners went down by a 1-0 aggregate score against Western Sydney Wanderers.
The Saudi Arabian champions have been looking strong following their emphatic 6-3 aggregate against Qatar’s Lekhwiya in their quarter-finals this year. However, the knowledge Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu has about his former employers Al Hilal that may help tilt the scales in favour of the Dubai team.
The Romanian was with the Saudi Arabian club for two seasons till 2009, after which he spent a season with Al Sadd, Qatar followed by two years with Al Ain before making the shift to Al Ahli in the summer of 2013. “There is no secret going into a semi-final. Both teams are here at this stage because they both deserve to be there. We have come here with a positive attitude,” Olaroiu told Gulf News from Riyadh yesterday.
“Nothing from the past is really going to matter once the two teams are on the pitch. We are eleven and they will have eleven and everything will be decided between the two out there. We have a plan in mind and hopefully we will be able to achieve the targets that we have set for ourselves,” he added.
The 46-year-old Romanian did not discount the home advantage to the Riyadh team. “We have our fans as well. One has to look at it from the point of view that this semi-final consists of 180 minutes divided into two parts. Our first target tomorrow will be to ensure we keep our focus for the entire 90 minutes and then we can travel back with a positive result,” Olaroiu said.
Al Hilal and Al Ahli have met in six previous AFC Champions League matches with the Saudi side winning three and the other three ending in draws. This will be the 11th time that Al Hilal are appearing in the AFC Champions League, while it is the sixth occasion for the team from Dubai.
The second semi-final will be played between Guangzhou Evergrande, China and Gamba Osaka, Japan on Wednesday. The winners of the two semi-finals will clash in a home-and-away final on November 7 and 21.
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