Optimistic Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is convinced “everything is possible in the world of football”, despite suffering a devastating 4-2 home defeat against Qatar powerhouse Al Duhail in their 2018 AFC Champions League round-of-16 opener.
Tuesday’s clash of the domestic double winners at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium turned into a surprisingly one-sided – and heated – affair. Al Ain were staring at a cataclysmic 4-0 defeat by 55 minutes, before Ahmed Khalil and Ibrahim Diaky struck from the substitutes’ bench to provide a glimmer of hope.
They must now score at least three times next week at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium versus omnipotent opponents who went undefeated in the QNB Stars League and were the only side in Asia to win all their group matches. Despite this gargantuan task, Mamic’s belief in the impossible remains undiminished.
He said: “We made a number of mistakes and we lacked the focus during the game.
“We have conceded four goals, but we managed to reduce the gap. We had to score the third goal.
“Now, we know that there are 90 minutes remaining. We will show our best, correct the mistakes and raise our concentration because everything is possible in the world of football.”
This edition of the continent’s elite club competition has been a trying one for the Boss, in contrast to their serene charge to Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup glory.
Doubts about progression grew after their first four Group D-matches were drawn. But they managed to strike four times in Doha when they thrashed Al Rayyan – a result Mamic is drawing on for encouragement.
“It is certain that our mission will not be easy in the second leg, but we can repeat the scenario of scoring four away goals like we did at the end of the group stage,” the ex-Croatia international said.
“We only have to be optimistic and confident in our ability to qualify to the quarter-finals.
“We have five training sessions before the return game. We will modify our situation and correct our mistakes.”
Next Tuesday’s unlikely quest for the 2002/03 winners will not feature Brazilian forward Caio. The 24-year-old was dismissed late on for kicking out at an opponent.
But veteran UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem and influential Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat should both be back in the ranks after they served suspensions.
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