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.”
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