Al Ain’s twin push for success in the AFC Champions League and President’s Cup is being spurred on by the pain of their failed Arabian Gulf League title defence, according to veteran centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
The Boss surrendered their domestic crown to bitter rivals Al Ahli last week during the penultimate round. But they rebounded in midweek, a 2-0 victory against Nasaf securing a third-successive berth in the knockout stages of Asia’s premier club competition.
With the quest to regain the President’s Cup set to resume with next week’s quarter-final against Al Wasl, UAE international Ahmed detailed the motivation fuelling the squad’s attempt to end the season in style.
“When we lost against Al Ahli in the league (a decisive 1-0 defeat a fortnight ago), we knew that was finished but that we still had to play in the AFC Champions League and the President’s Cup,” the 32-year-old said.
“Against Ahli, everybody was upset because when we lost the points, we knew we lost the championship. Everybody knows how we feel when we win and when we lose it’s different, so I hope that motivates us and hopefully from now we’ll give our best for Al Ain and all the fans.”
Coach Zlatko Dalic’s side were made to battle for a spot in the round of 16. Their Group A campaign got off to the worst possible start, losing both opening clashes against Qatar’s El Jaish.
A four-match unbeaten run against Al Ahli Jeddah and Nasaf then saw them secure second spot and a double-header this month against Iran’s Zob Ahan.
“The first thing I will say is thank you to the fans and thank you to all who support us,” said Ahmed. “This was the goal, an important game to take three points and qualify for the second round.
“Before the game, everybody knew, we spoke in the changing room that everybody must fight for 90 minutes and that’s what happened.
“And the second round will be strong, it will be difficult because everybody needs to win, but hopefully we’ll give all our best and pass the next stage. We’ll try to do that and everybody knows we have a difficult way to pass the second round. We’ll give all our best.”
Al Ain are next in action on Sunday when they wind down the 2015/16 AGL with the visit of relegation-threatened Emirates Club.
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