x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

ACL victory has Al Ain looking up, says Waleed Salem

The Al Ain goalkeeper believes their worst form is over for them following their victory over Hangzhou Greentown of China in the Asian Champions League

Waleed Salem believes Al Ain can climb up the league table.
Waleed Salem believes Al Ain can climb up the league table.

Waleed Salem, the Al Ain goalkeeper, believes the worst is over for them as they return to the domestic Pro League after a morale-boosting victory over Hangzhou Greentown of China in the Asian Champions League (ACL).

Salem, 31, returned to lead his team for the first time in more than a year after recovering from a knee surgery he had to undergo towards the latter part of the last season.

"It was a very significant result because it not only keeps our hopes alive in the ACL but has given us the much-needed confidence for the remainder of the season," said Salem.

"I think the worst is over for us. We wanted a good result and it finally came for us from the Hangzhou match. It has done a world of good to the confidence of the players and brought some cheer to our fans.

"The team was getting back on track with some good performances but the victory in the ACL was a huge relief for the players. We feel we can carry that momentum forward in the domestic competition."

Al Ain are lagging in second bottom in the 12-team table and they play Baniyas, in second place, tonight at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

The visitors came within seconds last week of inflicting the first defeat of the season on Al Jazira but will be playing tonight without the playmaking midfielder Amer Abdulrahman, who is serving a one-game ban.

Al Ain went down 3-0 to Baniyas in their first meeting but Salem is hoping they can reverse the result.

"The Baniyas match is a big game for both teams," he said. "A win for us will certainly improve our position. For us, a win is possible as we play at home and with the confidence high. And for them, it is a big game to keep pace with the leaders Al Jazira."

Al Ain have six matches, including their rescheduled fixture with Al Ahli on May 8, to climb up to safety. They may even end up with silverware as they play Al Shabab in the Etisalat Cup final on Friday.

"I am pretty sure we will avoid relegation and hopefully end up with a trophy for the season," said Salem, who also felt the team did well to end a 12-match run without a win in the league with a 2-0 home victory over Al Wahda on March 31.

"Most of those who were injured, including myself, are back. The foreign players have started to contribute more."

Al Ain had a most unusual setback at the beginning of the season. The club failed to sign a third foreign player to replace Marcio Emerson, the Brazilian forward, who left halfway through his two-year contract.

Jorge Valdivia, their influential midfielder from Chile, departed two weeks before the start of the new season and Soufiane Alloudi, the Moroccan forward, suffered an injury a week before the first league game, leaving them with only Jose Sand, the Argentine striker.

Ibrahima Keita, the Ivorian midfielder signed from Al Qadsia of Kuwait as replacement for Alloudi, was injured in the very first game. And Juma Saeed, an Ivorian forward from the club's youth squad, roped in only minutes before the transfer deadline, as their third foreign player, also suffered an injury in the same game. They were both out of action for more than two months.

The winless run in the league came after a bright start though, winning the first two matches against the promoted Dubai (4-3) and Al Nasr (3-0). Then they went without a win for the next 12 games in the league.