Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate is convinced Persepolis’ infamous, 80,000-capacity Azadi Stadium will bring out the best in his “crazy” team as they bid to seal a historic AFC Champions League quarter-final berth.
Teenage defender Khalifa Al Hammadi’s 96th-minute header on Monday sealed a dramatic 3-2 first-leg win at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. The Pride of Abu Dhabi now face the ominous task of completing the job next Monday in Tehran.
Home for the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League winners is Asia’s most-feared ground. But Ten Cate is sure his callow troops’ experience of narrowly losing to Real Madrid in December’s sold-out Club World Cup semi-final will stand them in good stead.
“We are used to playing here [the UAE] in front of hardly any spectators,” said the 63-year-old Dutchman. “But when we have spectators, the team makes the best performances.
“During the Club World Cup, we had people watching us and we did really well.
“This young team is capable of doing crazy things.
“It is not a guarantee, I know. But I can tell you one thing, we are ready.
“We will fight until we die for a good result. This is the quality of this team.”
Fine second-half goals from UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout and Brazilian forward Romarinho cancelled out Iran striker Ali Alipour’s headed 42nd-minute opener for the visitors. A controversial, retaken penalty from substitute Godwin Mensha then put Persepolis level, before Al Hammadi’s first career goal sparked riotous celebrations in the capital.
Jazira have suffered both on and off-field strife this term. This made Ten Cate even happier about the victory.
He said: “Don’t forget, we have a pretty inexperienced team. We have a lot of young players.
“I am very proud of this team, very proud.
“If you think of our situation for the entire season and then think this team is capable of doing this? You can only do one thing and that is applaud.
“It is the only thing you can do after all the problems we faced.”
Know more about Sport360 Application