x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Gabriel Calderon faces familiar but formidable foes

Baniyas take on Al Hilal in last 16 of Asian Champions League.

Baniyas coach Gabriel Calderon oversees training in Iran.
Baniyas coach Gabriel Calderon oversees training in Iran.

Gabriel Calderon has been here before. When he leads out his Baniyas side tonight to face Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia in the Asian Champions League (ACL) it will be the second year in a row he has taken on his former club in the knockout stage.

Last season the Argentine coached Hilal to a domestic double and to the last 16 of the ACL when they played Al Ittihad, the Saudi club Calderon had steered to the final in 2009.

It ended in a 3-1 defeat which cost him his job.

He took over at Baniyas in November and has revitalised the club after their difficult start to the domestic season. Last year they were runners-up in the Pro League and earned their ACL debut.

"This team is now in a position where they belong," Calderon said.

"We decided to fully focus on the President's Cup and the ACL when we thought we had no chance in finishing in the top three or four in the league.

"It seems to have worked. We reached the cup final and are now in the last-16 stage in the ACL, and hopefully we can progress to the next level. We have a difficult task playing away in the single-round knockout format but we are going with a lot of confidence."

In the group stages Baniyas had three wins, two draws and one away defeat to Ittihad, going down to a late penalty. They conceded only two goals in the six matches to underline the strength of a defence led by Yousef Jaber, the captain, his younger brother Mohammed, and Ismael Bouzid, the French centre-back.

They also have five players - Mohammed Jaber, Mohammed Fawzi, Amer Abdulrahman, Haboush Saleh and Ahmed Ali - in the extended squad for the UAE Olympic team for the London Games in the summer.

But Calderon knows his team face a stiff challenge at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh tonight.

"It is a tough game for us to play in the knockout format away but we are going with a positive mindset," he said.

"The two teams know each other very well and it is up to the team that plays best on the night. We have prepared well and have all our players available for this important game."

When asked about losing his job with Hilal he said: "In football, everything is possible. And every game has its own story.

"It is normal the coach has to take the blame when the team loses."

Abdulrahman feels confident because of his coach's inside knowledge, saying: "Although our opponents Al Hilal are among the best clubs in Saudi Arabia and also Asia, we are lucky that our coach was their former coach so we are not lacking at the tactical level. Having gone through to reach this stage, we will never look back."

Hilal have an excellent home record against UAE clubs in the ACL. They are unbeaten in seven previous games with four wins and three draws.

And they are the only team along with Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan to have appeared in the last 16 in all four seasons since its introduction to the AFC Champions League format.

Ivan Hasek, who led Al Ahli of Dubai to the President's Cup in 2008 and the Pro League in the following year, is their coach and will have considerable knowledge of Baniyas from his time in the UAE.

apassela@thenational.ae

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