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All eyes on attacking Al Ain to do well in home comfort against Yokohama

All eyes on attacking Al Ain to do well in home comfort against Yokohama
24 May 2024 09:29

Kuumar Shyam (Aletihad)

Al Ain will bank on their strong record at home at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the Asian Champions League (ACL) on Saturday as they hope to reverse a 2-1 setback suffered in the first leg of their final against Yokohama F-Marinos in Japan. 

Although Al Ain scored early in the 12th minute, two late goals meant Hernan Crespo’s men will have to do all the sweating if they have to add a second trophy in the tournament’s history after becoming the inaugural champions way back in 2003.

Two final appearances later – 2005 and 2016 – this is the final chance for them to win again in the current format before it changes shape and formation. At the helm is Crespo, a prolific striker for Argentina in his playing days, and Al Ain too have shown an attacking streak, especially in the finals. So the strategic direction for the final is an easy one to decipher for the home fans.

Al Ain have played 13 matches so far, starting from the group stage through the knockout rounds, until reaching the final match and playing the first leg, during which they scored 29 goals, of which player Sufyan Rahimi had the largest share, with 11 goals. Only semi-finalists Al Hilal with 30 goals have more goals while Yokohama are on 23 goals in the ACL this season. Crespo took over as Al Ain manager at the group stage in the fifth round.

After a losing start, Crespo’s men have marched on, including the upset results over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr in the quarter-finals and then Al Hilal with Philippe Coutinho in the ranks. They now take on Yokohama from the “East” region of the Asian continent with a large amount of X factor. The new format will work towards removing the divide between the East and West partitions so the clubs interact on the field more often.

Meanwhile, Al Ain have scored in all but one match – a goalless draw with Nasaf in the first leg of their last-16 tie. The defeat to Yokohama in the first leg in Japan also means Al Ain have now lost the away leg in each of their four finals. And yet, the fact that will give them belief is that they have never lost at home in the final, winning in 2003 and drawing the other two, against Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia and Jeonbuk Motors.

In the first leg after Al Ain took the lead, goalkeeper Khalid Eisa had to make six saves to keep the defeat manageable as the Japanese rivals attacked relentlessly in front of 53,704 fans, the second largest crowd for the season. 

Adjudged player of the match, Eisa will have behind him in contrast a maximum capacity of 25,000 fans which will include some visiting fans as well. No wonder his colleague, Khalid Al Hashemi, sent out an appeal to all fans to make it count as an advantage. 

“I’m pretty sure the fans will fire up the stadium for the 90 minutes, I hope so,” said the centre-half to afc.com. “What I want from them is they fire up for the whole game, from minute one until the last second.

“I believe the fans will play a big role in that game. There are some details we need to be better in, we players know this. We will work on it and I’m sure in the second leg we’ll do well.”

Crespo’s counterpart Harry Kewell has admitted that the final has cast a long shadow over his team’s league form domestically. They are in the bottom half of the division with four victories from 13 league games. “It’s going to be tough,” Kewell said, “but to win an ACL it has to be tough. Nothing’s given for free, you have to pay for it, you have to work for it. We have to suffer if we want to pick up this title.”

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