DUBAI // Four days after humbling Al Jazira to grab the lead in the Pro League, Al Ahli will be back on the field tonight, determined to start their AFC Champions League campaign with a win. The Red Knights will host the Uzbekistan powerhouse Pakhtakor in their opening match of Group A, which also includes Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal and Saba Battery of Iran. Three days is never enough to prepare for a game of such magnitude, but if you have beaten the best team in the country in your previous match it is not so bad.
"If you win, the recovery is much quicker, if you lose, it is difficult. So I believe the players are ready physically," said the Ahli coach Ivan Hasek. "Before the start of the season, the players had trained hard for situations like this when we have to play two or three games in a week." Ahli's resolve and endurance will be tested by their fresher Tashkent-based opponents, who have just started their season.
Pakhtakor, the only club to participate in every season of the competition, have played just two games in their domestic league Pakhtakor have been the undisputed kings in Uzbekistan football, winning eight Uzbek Oliy League titles, including six in succession, and the last seven domestic Cup crowns. Hasek is aware of these statistics and admits his side will face a tough challenge. "We are playing against a very good side," he said. "They have just started their season and I have watched videos of their two games.
"They won 3-0 at home and drew 0-0 away. We also have a bit of information from the friendlies they played earlier. "Physically they are strong and very dangerous from set pieces, free-kicks and corner-kicks. They have some young players, who are very strong technically. "They have a lot of quality. All the players have international experience, either with the youth team or the senior national team. It is going to be a very tough match."
Hasek is determined to make a winning start to their Champions League campaign and keep the momentum going after the win over Jazira. "The win over Jazira was just one small step for us," he said. "We are now fully focused on the Champions League and want to win the first game." email@example.com