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With Tehran trip, road ahead tough for Al Wahda

The club face a daunting task taking on more than 11 players in front of 100,000 non-partisan fans when they take on Iranian giants Persepolis.

Football managers often refer to their home fans as a 12th player for their ability to inspire the team. So Al Wahda face a daunting Champions League task tonight in front of 100,000 non-partisan fans when they take on the Iranian giants Persepolis in Tehran.

Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, has said simply avoiding defeat in the cauldron of the Azadi Stadium would be a satisfying result.

The Pro League champions are going through a frustrating period. They lost their past two Pro League games to Al Ahli and Kalba, the league's bottom team, and were beaten in the semi-finals of the Etisalat Cup by Al Shabab.

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"It will be unrealistic to say we are going with confidence when the team has had such poor results in the past few games," the Austrian said. "I will be happy to return with a point that would still keep our hopes alive and, more importantly, [leave us] in a better state of mind for the President's Cup semi-final [against Al Wasl on Sunday]."

Hickersberger has injury problems with strikers Fernando Baiano and Ismail Matar both not 100 per cent fit.

"We have to play two important games within three days and we can't take a lot of chances in risking some of the key players," the coach said. "Therefore we will play a defensive strategy and try to score from the counter attacks. It doesn't mean we are travelling with a defeatist mindset. We will try to win, but our main objective will be not to lose."

Wahda drew 1-1 against the Uzbek side Bunyodkor in their opening match at home a fortnight ago. Persepolis lost 3-1 away to Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.

Tonight's other game involving a UAE team sees Emirates, the President's Cup holders from Division One, take on Qatar's Al Rayyan.

apassela@thenational.ae

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