x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Three points are a must for Al Ain if they hope to reach last 16

Bottom of their Asian Champions League group, the UAE side can't afford to lose to Pakhtakor in Tashkent.

ABU DHABI // Al Ain, the only UAE side to have registered a victory in the group stages of this season's Asian Champions League, travel to Pakhtakor tonight knowing three points in Uzbekistan are essential if they are to have any chance of progressing to the last 16. The Emirati side are bottom of Group C with four points, but could go second with a win in Tashkent this evening.

When Pakhtakor visited the Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium in February, Artur Gevorkyan, the Turkmenistan midfielder, scored the only goal of the game to condemn Al Ain to defeat. Since then, however, stalemate in Iran against Sepahan followed by a 2-1 home win against Saudi Arabia heavyweights Al Shabab has reinvigorated Toninho Cerezo's side.Despite a disappointing 3-2 defeat in Riyadh - where they led for a while in the second half - Toninho says his side will face Pakhtakor full of confidence, but warned they must remain focused.

"Football is a team game and if we concentrate we have the players to win," said the Brazilian coach. "We are in the strongest group of the Asian Champions League because all of the teams have won points from their opponents. But that means that even if we are close to winning, we must not switch off as these teams can quickly punish you. Some of the games in our group have been decided by a free kick or penalty, so we must keep our focus."

Al Ain will need to find the net without Jose Sand, the Pro League's top scorer, but Toninho played down his striker's absence. "Jose is an outstanding player, but we need to play as a team and can't afford to rely on any one player," he said. Al Ain welcome Jorge Valdivia and Emerson back to the squad after missing recent matches through injury. gmeenaghan@thenational.ae