x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Wahda's warning: we want Inter

Pressure is lifted with win over Hekari and both captain and coach agree they will go into Seongnam match with more confidence.

Al Wahda players show their relief after beating Hekari in the opening match of the Club World Cup.
Al Wahda players show their relief after beating Hekari in the opening match of the Club World Cup.

Al Wahda players believe they have the momentum to carry them through to a semi-final meeting with Inter Milan now they have lifted the pressure off themselves with their convincing opening victory in the Club World Cup.

"We face a tougher opponent next but I think the hard part is over for us," Haider Ali, the Wahda captain, said after their 3-0 win over Hekari United, the Oceania champions from Papua New Guinea, at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium on Wednesday

The Pro League champions now face Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, the Asian champions, tomorrow with a game against the European champions awaiting the winner.

And Ali believes his team have an outstanding chance of taking that prize. "The biggest challenge we faced was to get over the first game and we have been successful with that," Ali said.

"We were under a lot of pressure not to repeat last year's debacle, when Al Ahli were beaten by Auckland City in the first game. Thank God, that's behind us.

"We knew we could win the first game but there was so much pressure.

"We are all relieved and are more confident we can go further in this competition."

Ismail Matar shared the sentiment of his captain, adding: "To get over the first hurdle was the most important for us.

"It really didn't matter how we won but we won."

Wahda's success comes on the back of an inspiring two-week period where the country's Olympic team won a silver medal at the Asian Games in China and a depleted senior national team reached the last four in the Gulf Cup in Yemen.

Matar admitted such good results were encouraging and gave the Wahda players confidence. "I would like to think our game has reached a new level with such good performances at both the Asian Games and the Gulf Cup. It also means the league has got stronger."

Josef Hickersberger, the coach, seemed a relieved man at the post-match news conference.

"Now we have played the first match, and the first match is always the most difficult on the mental side of things," Hickersberger said.

"We will be nervous before the second match, but not like this. The opponent, Seongnam, will be more difficult to play against. They are an experienced team. They have won the Asian championship.

"We must play much better to have any chance to get to the semi-finals. That [a game with Inter] would be a dream for the Wahda fans and for all UAE fans. They will give everything they have in this match. They have to."

Hickersberger also felt it was unfair to talk about weak opponents. "Obviously, the result was good for us; 3-0 is a very good result. I did not expect to win by such a large margin," he said.

"And it's not the right way to talk about Hekari United as a weak side. Of course, they do not have the international experience of our national team players or our Brazilians. But they are very physical, very fit and they fought until the final whistle."

Hickersberger's preparations have not been as he would have liked despite the Football Association deciding to leave out the Wahda players from the Gulf Cup in Yemen so that they could get ready for the Club World Cup.

"I wasn't really happy with our preparation because you need to have your whole team and your first-team players," the Austrian said. "Four players were with the Olympic team. One got married. One had school exams."

apassela@thenational.ae