Coach Henk ten Cate has declared “the big pressure” is on hosts Persepolis, despite Al Jazira needing to run the gauntlet at feared Azadi Stadium if they are to secure a landmark 2018 AFC Champions League quarter-final berth.
A fevered crowd at Tehran’s infamous 78,116-capacity venue is expected on Monday for this anticipated continental decider. The teams played out a rollercoaster first leg at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium last week, from which 19-year-old defender Khalifa Al Hammadi’s 96th-minute header earned a 3-2 advantage for the Pride of Abu Dhabi.
Composure will be key in a cauldron atmosphere to earning a club-first progression into the round of 16.
“I know their strengths, but I also know their weaknesses,” said Ten Cate, 63, of the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League winners.
“The pressure is on them, the big pressure is on Persepolis. A lot of people within the stadium, which mean extra stress.
“We are a small club from a small country and we came here to play in this beautiful city.
“It is a crazy city, according to traffic. We will enjoy the game of football and make the people in Abu Dhabi proud.”
Jazira have endured mixed fortunes throughout 2017/18.
Their limp Arabian Gulf League title defence ended with a distant seventh-placed finish. But they pushed Real Madrid all the way in December’s Club World Cup semi-finals and came through a tough Group A during continental competition.
“Qualifying for the big stage would save their season,” said Persepolis’ ex-Al Wahda boss, Branko Ivankovic.
“They have the advantage at 3-2. But there is still 90 minutes in front of our fans.”
The imposing Azadi looms over this decider. Yet, Ten Cate is expecting this to inspire – and not sink – his callow squad.
He said: “I remember and I recall the Club World Cup. It only excited my players and gave them an extra boost.”
The Dutchman boasts a fully-fit squad. Veteran captain Jalal Hosseini is back for Persepolis, but injury should rule out Iran defensive midfielder Kamal Kamyabinia.
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