Boss Henk ten Cate has revealed he was “convinced” about Al Jazira’s sterling progression to the 2018 AFC Champions League’s round of 16 from the moment he knew that a full-strength squad could finally be selected for Tuesday’s trip to Qatar’s Al Gharafa.
Exiled UAE striker Ali Mabkhout’s completion of a brace with the last kick at Thani bin Jassim Stadium secured an engrossing 3-2 triumph that guaranteed entry to the knockouts for the first time since 2014. This penultimate Group A-clash featured welcome returns by the likes of the two-goal match-winner, influential centre midfielder Mohamed Jamal and UAE forward Ahmed Al Attas.
“To be honest, yes, I did,” said Ten Cate when quizzed about whether he expected the result to send them through via a superior head-to-head record versus Gharafa. “The team were convinced, too.”
“You need to know that since September or November, this is the first time we have a full squad of players. Some of them just came back from injury.
“We felt in the past few days before the match that the players wanted to come here and achieve something.
“Anything can happen in football, and after the 20th minute I thought it wouldn’t be easy.
“It was vital that we make it through to the last 16, both for the club and the UAE.”
To top the section after April 17’s decider, they’ll need to better fellow qualifiers Al Ahli Jeddah’s 2-1 triumph in February’s reverse meeting.
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