Al Ain has landed in Doha for a crucial match against Al Rayyan to progress into the AFC Champions League knockout stage from Group D. The action starts at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium at 7.45pm on Monday.
Al Ain, with nine points, are currently second in the group and can go through even with a draw. Their Qatari hosts face a must-win situation to progress as they are a point behind Al Ain.
With two points clear of Al Ain, table-topping Esteghlal of Iran has already sealed their place for the knockout stage. However, they head for their encounter against bottom place Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia well aware that a win will allow them to finish at the top of their group.
The Boss come into the contest at the back of a roll. In their last domestic outing, they defeated Al Fujairah Club 4-2 in the quarter-finals of the President’s Cup. They are also just two games away from the clinching the Arabian Gulf League where they lead against second-placed Al Wahda by four points.
Al Ain have not failed to progress from the group stages since 2013. Since then, Al Ain have reached the final in 2016, the semi-finals in 2014, the quarter-finals in 2017 and the Round of 16 in 2015.
For this contest, they will however be missing the services of defender Ismail Ahmed and midfielder Mohammad Abdul Rahman. Ahmad had picked up a suspension after his second yellow card while Mohammad Abdul Rahman is out following his sending off in group stage on Matchday Five against Al Hilal.
The two sides had played a 1-1 draw when they met at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Matchday Two.
Al Ain have played 50 games away from home in the AFC Champions League, winning 13, drawing 17 and losing 20. That sequence of results includes their 2013 defeat at Al Rayyan.
Al Rayyan, on the other hand, have appeared in the AFC Champions League on seven previous occasions but have never progressed to the round of Round of 16 since the debut in the competition in 2005.
It’s a record that the former Denmark international and coach of Al Rayyan Michael Laudrup will be looking to change.
Al Rayyan have only played Al Ain at home once before in the AFC Champions League and they recorded a 2-1 group stage win in 2013. They have also already concluded their 2018 Qatar Stars League campaign with a 4-1 home win over Al Ahli last week and have finished third in the standings.
In Group C, UAE’s Al Wasl having already been knocked out the tournament, will be playing for pride at home against Uzbekistan’s Nasaf. Al Wasl are yet to open their accounts and have lost both of their previous home games — 2-1 to Al Sadd and 1-0 to Persepolis. Nasaf, on the other, had occupied third place in the group. They had registered a 1-0 win over Al Wasl when the two sides met in Uzbekistan on Matchday Two.
By N. D. Prashant
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