Al Ain survive partisan Azadi Stadium, but Zoran Mamic knows ACL wins are now a must

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Tsukasa Shiotani and the Al Ain players celebrate his superb equaliser at Esteghlal in Monday's 2018 AFC Champions League draw.

Proud Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic praised his troops for silencing the fevered 90,000-strong crowd at Tehran’s daunting Azadi Stadium – but is aware the “time has come to win” after they registered a fourth-successive draw in the 2018 AFC Champions League.

The Boss showed tremendous character to rebound from Senegalese forward Mame Thiam’s generous first-half penalty for Esteghlal. Their valiant efforts were rewarded with less than 15 minutes left when Japan utility man Tsukasa Shiotani curled a sublime effort with his weaker right foot past Hossein Hosseini to stun the partisan support crammed into one of the world’s largest stadiums.

This moved the winless 2002/03 champions onto four points in a tight Group D, two points behind Monday’s hosts and Michael Laudrup’s Al Rayyan following their impressive 2-1 triumph against 2017’s beaten finalists Al Hilal.

Victory against the latter-mentioned outfit is a pressing need when the competition resumes on April 2.

“A positive result for us in front of 90,000 fans and I think all the Group D teams are still there,” said Mamic, whose troops had played out a rollercoaster 2-2 draw at home versus the same opponents last week.

“There are only two games left and the time has come to win to ensure we qualify for the knockouts.

“I was very happy with the atmosphere in the stadium. We witnessed a massive crowd and any football player would love that.

“It’s hard to experience that in every game, and I talked with my players before the game to get into the match and have fun.

“The truth is that I have followed several matches of Esteghlal and collected a lot of information about the opponent before the meeting.

“It is normal for the coach to analyse the strengths and weaknesses and then build the method.

“It was not easy at this ground, but my team did well and deserve to be congratulated.”

Opposite number Winfried Schafer had won the President’s Cup, Arabian Gulf Cup and Arabian Gulf Super Cup at Al Ain from 2007-09. He was impressed with his former charge’s “strong desire”.

He said: “Al Ain against Esteghlal was a very good game.

“In the first half, we managed to put high pressure on Al Ain and managed to get the lead, but in the second half the opponent showed a strong desire to equalise.”

Al Ain will next look to protect their four-point lead in the Arabian Gulf League when they visit distant holders Al Jazira on Saturday.

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