A stunning performance during last week’s round-of-16 first leg sees the Blue Wave take a 4-1 lead to Iran.
But escalating political tensions between the nations and the prospect of a red-hot reception from the partisan masses in the 70,000-capacity Yadegar Emam Stadium means they will be severely tested.
“The match is important for both teams,” said Kembo Ekoko. “We know each other well now, and both have a desire to reach the quarters.
“Our team will focus on enjoying ourselves and playing our football, just as we did in the last match without regard to any other things.”
Super-sub Salem Saleh – who can play a role again because of Brazil international Nilmar’s ankle problem – rose from the bench to register a brace at Al Maktoum Stadium, with his efforts bookended by eye-catching goals from full-backs Ahmed Al Yassi and Mahmoud Khamis.
The solitary strike from Brazilian winger Augusto means a minimum 3-0 victory for the Red Wolves is required to salvage the situation, something no team has done before in the ACL’s knockout stages.
The hosts will take confidence from their home meeting in Group A against fellow UAE side Al Jazira, which ended with a dominant 4-0 triumph.
Win this match very good team tonight! We will be ready to go for qualifying tuesday ! We are together ! pic.twitter.com/RiIrr6Ywz4— Jirès Kembo Ekoko (@JiresKembo_) May 17, 2016
Coach Amir Ghalenoei also believed his side’s opening display did not merit such a heavy defeat.
He said: “After 36 years in football I learned a new lesson that you can have so much of the ball but still concede four goals. We attacked 20-30 times in the same game and only scored once.
“We played Al Jazira twice and won both times in the group stage, but never did these things.”
The match in Dubai was further inflamed at half-time when the Tractor bench clashed with officials and their opposite numbers about accusations of time wasting. Blue Wave boss Ivan Jovanovic refused to get involved in the debate when questioned by the Iranian media.
He said: “I do not think it is your right to direct this question towards my team. I do not think simple things such as ‘wasting time’, in your own words, is the problem when you look at the result.”
The two clubs are involved in midweek round-of-16 deciders in the AFC Champions League. The Blue Wave hold a commanding 4-1 first-leg lead over Tuesday’s opponents Tractor Sazi, while the Boss have it all to prove at Zob Ahan the following night after a 1-1 draw at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
The high-pressure nature of the matches and continuing discord between the nations has led to fears about safety, which Al Dhaheri attempted to assuage.
“The UAE FA is keen to support and provide all conditions required to help Al Nasr and Al Ain,” said Al Dhaheri. “The safety of the two clubs in Iran is a priority, in addition to securing coordination and communication with the clubs and their Iranian opponents.
“Protection needs to be provided from the moment of their arrival through to their departure. The UAE FA holds a commitment to take all measures to ensure the provision of security.”
Security observers from the Asian Football Confederation and members of the governing body’s competition committee will be with the UAE clubs throughout the trip, with both flying across the Strait of Hormuz on Monday.
Nasr are guaranteed a fearsome reception at the 70-000-capacity Yadegar-e Emam Stadium in Tabriz, in the country’s north west. Al Ain, based in central Isfahan, play in the confined 15-000-capacity Foolad Shahr Stadium.
The Blue Wave suffered an incident free 2-0 loss against Sepahan in their opening Group A fixture and Al Dhaheri hopes for more of the same.
“We have addressed the AFC to provide all conditions to fight for victory for the return leg and take every security measure along the lines of the first match played in Sepahan last February, in which no complaints were made about safety and security before, during and after the match,” he added.
The Boss conceded two goals in two frantic minutes at the death on Sunday against Bani Yas to force a shock extra-time period, in which they belatedly prevailed through midfielder Lee Myung-joo’s composed winner.
Another stern test now awaits on Wednesday in Iran, a 1-1 home draw to Zob Ahan putting them on the back foot for the fight to reach the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League.
Despite an unconvincing route to Sunday’s domestic showpiece against Al Jazira, right-back Fawzi insists self-assurance will not be a problem in midweek.
The 26-year-old said: “We have confidence, we are Al Ain. Inshallah, we will be what our supporters want.
“We feel good. We are always happy. Even when we lost the Arabian Gulf League title we were still happy, because all the team is in one house. That is most important.”
The rickety 2014 winners’ unconvincing progression to the decider at Zayed Sports City was in stark contrast to their opponents. A predatory hat-trick from 29-goal marksman Ali Makbhout saw the Pride of Abu Dhabi secure a merited 3-2 win against AGL champions Al Ahli.
Fallen giants Jazira have improved markedly since Henk ten Cate arrived in December, following the abysmal return of Abel Braga. They have won four of their last five games in all competitions, which is a contrast to Al Ain’s faltering run of four triumphs in the last 11.
“Jazira is a good team, in good shape,” said UAE international Fawzi. “But every year Al Ain play for the cup, compete to the end in the Arabian Gulf League and AFC Champions League.
“We have the best player in the UAE [playmaker Omar Abdulrahman] and we are happy. Inshallah, we will be champions on May 29 and go to the next round of the AFC Champions League.”
Elsewhere, Al Wahda’s UAE international defender Hamdan Al Kamali has committed his long-term future to the Clarets after signing a new five-year contract that will keep him at the Al Nahyan Stadium until 2021.
The 27-year-old, who played 26 games and scored once in all competitions for the Abu Dhabi outfit this season, has spent the entirety of his ten year career at Wahda. He was loaned to Ligue 1 giants Lyon in 2011/12 but failed to make an impact in France’s top flight.
“Hamdan Al Kamali is one of the club’s loyal sons and one of the main pillars the team relies on,” said a club statement.
“He is characterised by consistent outstanding performances and is one of the important elements of the UAE national team. He has been awarded with a lucrative contract based upon his status as being the best defender in the country.”