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Lucas Neill believes home advantage is pointless if a stadium is half full.
Lucas Neill believes home advantage is pointless if a stadium is half full.
Lucas Neill believes home advantage is pointless if a stadium is half full.

'Get behind us' Lucas Neill tells Al Jazira fans ahead of crunch tie

The Australian defender urges the whole of the UAE to back Jazira, and fill the stadium, against Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia in Asian Champions League.

ABU DHABI // Lucas Neill wants Al Jazira fans to pack the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in the capital tonight for their Asian Champions League (ACL) last 16 tie against Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli.

And he has urged supporters around the country to forget club loyalties for a day to get behind Jazira as they bid to become the first team from the UAE to reach the quarter-finals of the competition since 2007.

Jazira won their group to earn a home game in tonight's one-off tie. But Neill, the Australian defender, is worried absent fans will make any home advantage non existent.

Only 820 turned up for the 4-1 win over Nasaf Qarshi of Uzbekistan on May 2 and Jazira's highest attendance of the group stage was 4,562 against Esteghlal of Iran

"There is no point playing with the tag of home advantage when nobody turns up for the game," said Neill, the former West Ham United and Blackburn Rovers player.

"We want to perform at our best and to do that we need as many people as possible to watch us play and take advantage of playing at home.

"This is not about Jazira but the UAE. The UAE fans can be proud to see a UAE club playing in the ACL last eight [if Jazira win], and perhaps win the continental championship.

"I am flying the flag of Australia but I am flying it on behalf of the UAE.

"My colleagues Bare and Ricardo [Oliveira] are Brazilians, and Matias Delgado is Argentine, the coach Caio Junior is Brazilian, and they are all flying the flag for the UAE. So we need the UAE behind us."

"I would urge the crowds to turn up in large numbers and get behind us for this important match."

Neill said he has had a "fantastic" time at the Abu Dhabi club and the season had panned out well despite the disappointment in the Pro League, with Jazira failing to retain the title they won in 2011.

"We won the President's Cup and now we are in the last 16 stage in the ACL," he said. "If we can win the Asian title, then it would be two out of three. Hopefully we can achieve it.

"It is a very proud time for Jazira. If we can take advantage of this home game, we will go into the last eight in Asia, the biggest continent in the world.

"This is a good opportunity to win and it will be a great honour for the club. This is the goal of everybody and we are one of those teams that are hungry to win this continental title."

Neill's sentiment was also shared by Caio Junior, who said: "Playing at home should be an advantage for us and I would like to think it will be advantage for us if our fans are behind us."

Jazira have reached the last 16 stage in the ACL for the first time in four attempts and Caio Junior said this was their biggest game of the season, with the quarter-finals set to take place in September after the summer break.

"The time has come that everyone in the club was waiting for," the Brazilian said.

"We have had a great campaign in the ACL and hopefully we can reach the last eight by winning this game."

Ahli arrive with their tails up after winning Saudi Arabia's King's Cup of Champions last week, and Caio Junior acknowledged that "the moral of the team will be very high."

Caio Junior highlighted Marcelo Camacho and Victor Simoes, the club's two Brazilians, as the main threats.

"They are very dangerous and I know their playing days in Brazil," he said. "I believe this game will be a high level and emotional match for both teams.

"Ahli are a balanced team. They are well organised and generally a very offensive teams."

Caio Junior said he knew Ahli well because he had the opportunity to play against them twice when he was at Al Gharafa in Qatar.

Karel Jerolim, the Ahli coach, said they had arrived with their best squad available as it is their last game for the season.

"Jazira are strong in the midfield and have a good attack, they will also have the home advantage. [Things] are slightly against us in the single elimination format but we are here to win," the Slovak said.

apassela@thenational.ae

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