x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Asian Champions League: Al Ain coach Cosmin Olaroiu not counting on any gifts

Round-up: UAE Pro League champions' hopes of progression rely on the result of Group D's other match between Al Rayyan and Al Hilal, while Al Nasr will play for pride.

Cosmin Olaroiu needs a home win against Esteghlal tonight and a favour from Al Rayyan against Al Hilal for Al Ain to progress. Fadi Al Assaad / Reuters
Cosmin Olaroiu needs a home win against Esteghlal tonight and a favour from Al Rayyan against Al Hilal for Al Ain to progress. Fadi Al Assaad / Reuters

Group D // Al Ain v Esteghlal

That Cosmin Olaroiu reminds of how he never expects to profit from the generosity of others conveys the task facing Al Ain in the Asian Champions League.

The UAE Pro League champions entertain Esteghlal in their final Group D fixture, needing victory to reach the last 16 of the tournament and maintain aspirations of continental success.

That much is straightforward. Thereafter, things become rather complicated.

Such is the conundrum affecting Al Ain's chances of progression that even a win at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium might not prolong their quest.

Much depends on the result of Al Hilal's visit to Al Rayyan, as the Saudi Arabians enter Matchday 6 three points above their UAE rivals, with one foot planted in the knockout stages.

Al Ain therefore require a triumph against Esteghlal, the group leaders, and hope last-place Rayyan defeat Hilal, with a swing in goal difference of at least four. A situation could arise, though, where the two sides' disciplinary records prove the deciding factor.

Understandably, Olaroiu is not too optimistic.

"Our chances are weak, as we have to win and wait for Hilal to lose in Doha," the Romanian said. "Throughout my career, I haven't waited for gifts from other teams, but this is our situation now.

"We'll be playing against a team who've already secured their place in the knockout stages and this means it'll be a tough match. However, we want to win to finish the group [positively]."

For one last attempt at qualification, Al Ain welcome back their foreign contingent after Asamoah Gyan, Alex Brosque, Mirel Radoi and Jires Kembo-Ekoko were rested in Saturday's Pro League game at Al Shaab, a shock 1-0 defeat.

Their senior Emiratis, including Hilal Saeed and Omar Abdulrahman, are also expected to return.

Abdulrahman said: "We know the match may be the last for us in this year's Champions League, and we should still show our best by carrying out the coach's instructions.

"It's true there is a very narrow chance of qualifying, but the most important thing for us is to portray Al Ain club in its best light."

Meanwhile, Esteghlal may have confirmed their continuation in the competition, but the Iranians will be intent on victory, too, as it would secure the top spot in the pool, meaning they will have the advantage of playing the second leg of their last-16 encounter at home.

Esteghlal's chances are increased by the availability, following suspension, of key components Amir Hossein Sadeghi and Siavash Akbarpour.

"The regulations allow only two teams to advance, but all the teams in the group deserve to advance following their good performances in the previous matches," coach Amir Ghalenoei said. "We respect our opponents, especially as they're playing at home.

"We've studied Al Ain and they play good football, but the most important thing for us now is to top the group. Hopefully we can get a good result."

Group C // Al Ahli (Saudi) v Al Nasr

It is difficult to know who Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach, will field tonight against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli in Group C’s final fixture of the Asian Champions League.

With five defeats in five matches, the Dubai club have little  to play for, while the Saudi team has already clinched top spot with a game to spare.

Zenga began last week’s home defeat to Sepahan with a team made up of Emiratis, so the trip to Jeddah could see a similar approach.

Although, with Nasr not playing in the Pro League until May 9, expect Giuseppe Mascara, Leonardo Lima, Takayuki Morimoto and Bruno Correa to feature.

 

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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