x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emirates Club our toughest opponents, says Ebrahimzadeh

In their quest to become the first UAE side to reach the knockout stages in four years, Emirates can take heart from the claim of the coach of their conquerors.

Jungo Fujimoto, the Nagoya Grampus midfielder, scores from the penalty spot against China's Hangzhou Greentown.
Jungo Fujimoto, the Nagoya Grampus midfielder, scores from the penalty spot against China's Hangzhou Greentown.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // In their quest to become the first UAE side to reach the knockout stages in four years, Emirates can take heart from the claim of the coach of their conquerors on Tuesday night that they are the toughest team his Zob Ahan side have faced in this season's competition.

Emirates slipped to third in the group, two points behind Al Shabab, following the 1-0 home defeat to last season's finalists, but they will still be confident of reaching the last 16. They play Al Rayyan, the bottom team in Group D, in Qatar on Tuesday. A win there, coupled with victory for Zob Ahan at home to Shabab in Esfahan, will see them progress in second place.

Mansour Ebrahimzadeh, the Zob Ahan coach, said the unheralded side from Ras al Khaimah merit a place in the next round.

"No doubt they have been our toughest opponent in the group," Ebrahimzadeh said. "Emirates remind me of our own team last season. We were playing in the Champions League for the first time and we reached the final in Tokyo."

Emirates have shocked many educated observers with their Champions League form this season but not Karim Kerkar, the team's midfielder schemer.

"Some people might have been surprised, but I am very confident about my team," the Algerian international said.

"I trust my players. Maybe technically we are not so good, but they have a lot of heart ... The result about Zob Ahan and Shabab, we don't care because we have to win."

Emirates' success in Asia would contrast their unconvincing league form. They have lost their last two games and are second in Group A, equal on points with leaders Ajman (34) but with an inferior goal difference.

They meet Dibba al Fujairah and Al Oruba in the last two games and will probably need to win both if they are to secure a return to the Pro League, a tough task at the end of a busy season, which has seen the club compete in four different championships.

arizvi@thenational.ae