x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

No pressure on us, says Wahda striker Matar

Ismail Matar, the influential Wahda forward, was adamant that his side are the equal of Seongnam, South Korea's most successful club side.

Ismail Matar, left, the Al Wahda striker, believes going into tonight's quarter-final match against Seongnam as underdogs will only benefit the Pro League champions. Ravindranath K / The National
Ismail Matar, left, the Al Wahda striker, believes going into tonight's quarter-final match against Seongnam as underdogs will only benefit the Pro League champions. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // The stakes are high for Al Wahda and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. The reward for the winner tonight is a dream semi-final in the Club World Cup against Inter Milan, the Italian giants and European champions.

That meeting has been the ambition of both teams, Wahda, the Pro League champions representing the host nation, and Seongnam, the Asian champions from South Korea, who clash in tonight's quarter-final match at Zayed Sports City.

Wahda earned a showdown with Seongnam after coming through their first match 3-0 against Hekari United, the Oceania champions from Papua New Guinea.

Ismail Matar, the influential Wahda forward, was adamant that his side are the equal of South Korea's most successful club side.

"Seongnam are the favourites and they have some good players," said Matar. "But we are not any weaker than them. Look at the players we have: the majority of them are in the national team and we have four foreigners.

"They are the Asian champions and obviously are stronger on paper. But we are playing at home and the crowd will be behind us. We have also played a game, which was the hardest part for us, to come through the first game.

"That game has done a lot of good to the confidence of the players, being the first match for all of us in this competition. We were in a pressure-cooker situation for the first game and now that's behind us. We are not the favourites against Seongnam and that relieves all the pressure. It is good for us."

He said Wahda have "a surprise" for Seongnam because "every player in this side can score", describing the central defenders Basheer Saeed and Hamdan al Kamali as "lethal" on set pieces.

Josef Hickersberger, Wahda's coach, is likely to stick with the same line-up he employed against Hekari, given the team's success. One change that may enter the Austrian's thinking could be starting with Abdulraheem Jumaa for Fahed Masoud. The right winger played the Hekari game with a heavily strapped thigh and struggled. Jumaa replaced him in the second half and scored.

Modibo Diarra, the Ivorian forward, will most likely make the bench again, given Matar's excellent link-up play with Fernando Baiano on Wednesday.

The seven-time K-League champions also carry lofty ambitions, and a meeting with Inter is very much on the agenda.

Shin Tae-yong, their coach, made no secret about it when he stated they were not here to make up the numbers. He said: "We have come here to win, as always."

They have a strong foreign presence led by Sasa Ognenovski, the tall Australian defender who was named Asian Player of the Year two weeks ago. In attack, they have the Montenegrin Dzenan Radonic and Mauricio Molina, the former Colombian international.

"We are not overconfident," Shin said. "Al Wahda are here because they are the UAE's champions. They have got the support of the public behind them and they are used to the conditions. That will give them an advantage. We'll need to be cautious because we are expecting a very difficult match."

apassela@thenational.ae

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