Optimistic Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is convinced “everything is possible in the world of football”, despite suffering a devastating 4-2 home defeat against Qatar powerhouse Al Duhail in their 2018 AFC Champions League round-of-16 opener.
Tuesday’s clash of the domestic double winners at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium turned into a surprisingly one-sided – and heated – affair. Al Ain were staring at a cataclysmic 4-0 defeat by 55 minutes, before Ahmed Khalil and Ibrahim Diaky struck from the substitutes’ bench to provide a glimmer of hope.
They must now score at least three times next week at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium versus omnipotent opponents who went undefeated in the QNB Stars League and were the only side in Asia to win all their group matches. Despite this gargantuan task, Mamic’s belief in the impossible remains undiminished.
He said: “We made a number of mistakes and we lacked the focus during the game.
“We have conceded four goals, but we managed to reduce the gap. We had to score the third goal.
“Now, we know that there are 90 minutes remaining. We will show our best, correct the mistakes and raise our concentration because everything is possible in the world of football.”
This edition of the continent’s elite club competition has been a trying one for the Boss, in contrast to their serene charge to Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup glory.
Doubts about progression grew after their first four Group D-matches were drawn. But they managed to strike four times in Doha when they thrashed Al Rayyan – a result Mamic is drawing on for encouragement.
“It is certain that our mission will not be easy in the second leg, but we can repeat the scenario of scoring four away goals like we did at the end of the group stage,” the ex-Croatia international said.
“We only have to be optimistic and confident in our ability to qualify to the quarter-finals.
“We have five training sessions before the return game. We will modify our situation and correct our mistakes.”
Next Tuesday’s unlikely quest for the 2002/03 winners will not feature Brazilian forward Caio. The 24-year-old was dismissed late on for kicking out at an opponent.
But veteran UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem and influential Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat should both be back in the ranks after they served suspensions.
Marzooq, 29, was one of few players to come out with any credit from the merged club’s trying inaugural campaign. He had previously represented the amalgamated Al Shabab in two stints, sandwiched by 2010/11’s brief stay at Al Jazira.
These performances convinced the Blue Wave to take advantage of his uncertain contractual situation and bring him across Dubai.
“Al Nasr formally contracted with the defender Mohammed Marzooq, who is coming from Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club on a four-year contract,” they tweeted. “He will wear the No3 shirt.”
Ivan Jovanovic’s men last week landed emerging UAE forward Mohamed Al Akbari, 22, on a three-year deal from Al Wahda. Reserve left-back Hussain Abbas moved in the opposite direction.
Marzooq was a non-playing member of the Whites squad that finished runners-up during this winter’s Gulf Cup in Kuwait. In March, he started both defeats to Slovakia and Gabon at the King’s Cup in Thailand.
Nasr are yet to make any permanent changes to their foreign quartet. Hatta’s Brazilian forward Samuel Rosa is rumoured to have been teed up.
Jovanovic’s January return inspired a fourth-placed finish in 2017/18.
Meanwhile, runners-up Al Wahda have secured a one-year contract extension with South Korea centre-back Rim Chang-woo.
Rim, 26, has started all 56 AGL matches since his January 2016 arrival from Ulsan Hyundai.
Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate is convinced Persepolis’ infamous, 80,000-capacity Azadi Stadium will bring out the best in his “crazy” team as they bid to seal a historic AFC Champions League quarter-final berth.
Teenage defender Khalifa Al Hammadi’s 96th-minute header on Monday sealed a dramatic 3-2 first-leg win at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. The Pride of Abu Dhabi now face the ominous task of completing the job next Monday in Tehran.
Home for the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League winners is Asia’s most-feared ground. But Ten Cate is sure his callow troops’ experience of narrowly losing to Real Madrid in December’s sold-out Club World Cup semi-final will stand them in good stead.
“We are used to playing here [the UAE] in front of hardly any spectators,” said the 63-year-old Dutchman. “But when we have spectators, the team makes the best performances.
“During the Club World Cup, we had people watching us and we did really well.
“This young team is capable of doing crazy things.
“It is not a guarantee, I know. But I can tell you one thing, we are ready.
“We will fight until we die for a good result. This is the quality of this team.”
Fine second-half goals from UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout and Brazilian forward Romarinho cancelled out Iran striker Ali Alipour’s headed 42nd-minute opener for the visitors. A controversial, retaken penalty from substitute Godwin Mensha then put Persepolis level, before Al Hammadi’s first career goal sparked riotous celebrations in the capital.
Jazira have suffered both on and off-field strife this term. This made Ten Cate even happier about the victory.
He said: “Don’t forget, we have a pretty inexperienced team. We have a lot of young players.
“I am very proud of this team, very proud.
“If you think of our situation for the entire season and then think this team is capable of doing this? You can only do one thing and that is applaud.
“It is the only thing you can do after all the problems we faced.”