x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sepahan coach wary of Al Ain threat now the pressure is off

Pride is the only thing at stake for Al Ain tonight when they host Sepahan in their final Asian Champions League match. Their Iranian opponents have much more at stake.

AL AIN // Pride is the only thing at stake for Al Ain tonight when they host Sepahan in their final Asian Champions League (ACL) match. Their Iranian opponents have much more at stake. Sepahan's passage into the knockout stages of the competition depends on the outcome of the match and the group's other tie between Pakhtakor and Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia. The Uzbeks head Group C on nine points with Sepahan (eight) and Shabab (seven) in the battle for the two places in the last 16. Al Ain are last with four points.

"It is a game we will try to win and not depend on the other result," said Amir Ghalenoei, the Sepahan coach. "We are playing against a team that is already out of the competition and that's dangerous because there will be no pressure on them." Abdulhameed al Mishtiki, Al Ain's caretaker coach, may spend the game giving instructions from the stands if his registration is not sanctioned by the AFC competition committee in time for the game.

"My papers were sent late due to an oversight but that's not a major issue," said al Mishtiki, who took charge after Toninho Cerezo was sacked following the ACL defeat to Pakhtakor two weeks ago. "There is still time. If not, my deputy [Ahmed Abdullah] will do the job for me." Al Ain will be without Jorge Valdivia, their influential midfielder, Marcio Emerson, the Brazilian forward, and Muasallam Ahmed, who are all serving one-match bans, as well their injured midfielder Saif Mohammed and defender Ismail Ahmed.

"We still have a strong squad," added al Mishtiki. "We are not worried who goes into the second round. Let the best team qualify, but for us, we have reputation as a club and nation." Al Ahli are also out of contention as they face Al Sadd in Doha. The Qatar league champions need to win to progress from Group D into the second round along with Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia. apassela@thenational.ae

Al Ain v Sepahan 7.50pm Al Sadd v Al Ahli 7.25pm