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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Asian Champions League: Al Ain players aim to return from Riyadh 'having qualified for the semi-finals'

UAE club will take on Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal in second-leg quarter-final with the tie in the balance at 0-0

Al Ain winger Caio, front, shields the ball from Al Hilal's Salman Alfaraj during the Asian Champions League first leg quarter-final in the UAE that finished 0-0. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Al Ain winger Caio, front, shields the ball from Al Hilal's Salman Alfaraj during the Asian Champions League first leg quarter-final in the UAE that finished 0-0. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Al Ain’s Tsukasa Shiotani says his side must focus fully and fight until the end against Al Hilal in Riyadh on Monday if they want to keep alive their Asian Champions League dream.

The Garden City side, runners-up in last year’s tournament, go into the quarter-final second leg at the King Fahd International Stadium with the aggregate score at 0-0 following the goalless draw in Al Ain three weeks ago.

Hilal represent formidable opponents, with the Saudi Arabians undefeated in this year’s competition. The current Saudi champions, one of West Asia's most celebrated clubs, are looking to reach their first final since losing the showpiece event in 2014.

Japanese utility man Shiotani, a summer signing from Sanfrecce Hiroshima in his homeland, urged his Al Ain teammates to give everything in front of what promises to be a raucous 68,000-plus Riyadh crowd.

"We are well aware that Al Ain's task requires high concentration and fighting from the first to the final whistle,” said Shiotani, who can play in midfield or defence. “But we are able to return from Riyadh having qualified for the semi-finals.

"With all respect, I must assure you that Al Ain is not afraid of Al Hilal at home and in front of their fans. All clubs in Asia are keen to confront Al Ain, but we will fight to achieve our goal at the King Fahd International Stadium. I wish success to my team.”

Al Ain have been buoyed by the return of captain Omar Abdulrahman. The reigning Asian Player of the Year had to have treatment on his ankle following the first leg and was forced to sit out of the UAE’s two recent World Cup qualifiers, against Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Abdulrahman is currently the Champions League joint-top scorer this year, alongside Shanghai SIPG's Hulk, with seven goals.

Al Ain do have concerns in defence, though, with centre-back Mohanad Salem and left-back Khalid Abdulrahman suspended. However, UAE stalwart Ismail Ahmed has recovered from injury and will slot into the centre of the backline beside Mohammed Ahmed.

Meanwhile, Brazilian winger Caio preferred not to discuss the second leg, saying: "I do not speak about expectations very well. I do not speak very well pre-match as much as I focus on providing the best level on the pitch. So I hope I can answer all the questions related to Al Ain on the night, on the pitch.