Al Wasl and UAE defensive midfielder Ali Salmeen is insistent his club are not feeling the pressure of their do-or-die 2018 AFC Champions League clash against Iran behemoth’s Persepolis.
Tuesday’s hosts in Dubai have lost all three Group C matches – including a 2-0 defeat in last week’s reverse game – to make it a painful return to Asia’s top table after a decade away.
They must avoid another defeat to the dominant Persian Gulf Pro League holders and last year’s continental semi-finalists to keep dreams of progression to the round of 16 on life support, with hopes further addled by a crash in form that leaves them winless in five matches from all competitions.
“I don’t have pressure,” said 23-year-old midfielder Salmeen. “I trust and believe in my team to make a great match and win the three points, because we know this is our last hope to qualify for the second-round matches.
“There is 90 minutes and we have to fight and win.”
Opponents Persepolis sit top of a tight pool in which themselves, Xavi’s Al Sadd and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf possess six points to Wasl’s zero.
Their ex-Al Wahda boss Branko Ivankovic, 64, is determined to earn another shot at ACL glory.
He said: “It was a great honour to reach the semi-finals in Asia last year. We will definitely try to get out of the group stage – and not stop there.
“Al Wasl are a big team and I think they have the best organisation among UAE teams. They have fought to be champions of the UAE.”
Wasl’s descent threatens both their current Asian prospects and hopes of qualifying next year through the Arabian Gulf League.
Tactician Rodolfo Arruabarrena blamed the draining effects of injuries that have afflicted the likes of 12-goal striker Caio Canedo.
He said: “Although we are last in the group, mathematically we can still do a good job and it is possible to progress. But we also have so many injuries, which makes problems for our team to make up the deficit.
“As a coach, I have to choose which competitions we have the best chance in.”
Tractor Sazi v Al Jazira
Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate has urged his depleted attack not to spurn any chances as they gun for a vital victory at scoreless Iran strugglers Tractor Sazi.
A lengthy list of absentees for Group A’s second-placed side in the 2018 AFC Champions League features UAE hot shots Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Al Attas.
“I hope we are good tomorrow and take advantage of any opportunities,” said boss Ten Cate about the trip to bottom-placed opponents. “A positive result will enhance our chances of qualifying for the next phase.”
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