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.
Quinteros, 53, had been out of work since an ignominious 14-game spell at Saudi Arabian giants Al Nassr ended with the sack in January. He had previously been dismissed by Ecuador last September because of their impending failure to make World Cup 2018.
But the Argentina-born, ex-Bolivia defender’s prior achievements with teams such as Blooming and Oriente Petrolero have convinced the Cheetahs to snap him up for 2018/19.
“Al Wasl contracted with coach Gustavo Quinteros to train the first team,” they tweeted.
A tough task awaits to follow on from Arrubarrena, who worked wonders since his June 2016 arrival at an outfit who operate within their financial means.
Finishes of second and third in the Arabian Gulf League represent the best of an otherwise trying professional era. Narrow defeats for the 42-year-old’s side in the Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup showpieces were recorded in 2017/18.
But the outfit from Zabeel Stadium stunned UAE football by declining to renew the ex-Argentina, Boca Juniors and Villarreal left-back’s expired deal.
His replacement, Quinteros, is the latest in a long line of coaches from South America.
Current Egypt boss Hector Cuper left after 13 poor AGL matches in 2013/14. He was replaced by Brazil’s World Cup 1994-winning right-back Jorginho, but he lasted until just October in the next campaign.
Combustible ex-Argentina midfielder Gabriel Calderon then secured successive sixth-placed finishes, prior to Arruabarrena’s brilliant two-season stint.
Fujairah boss Dr Abdullah Mesfer has declared his Wolves will go all out to hunt down Hatta and nail down a berth in the Arabian Gulf League during Sunday’s deciding promotion play-offs.
The top flight’s bottom two – Emirates Club and Hatta – are battling the First Division League’s third and fourth-placed finishers – Fujairah and Al Hamriyah – to join the expanded, 14-team 2018/19 top flight.
A brace from Argentine striker Danilo Carando secured a 2-1 victory at Fujairah Stadium for Diego Maradona’s former charges on Wednesday. Attack will now be the best form of defence when they look to nail down a return to the big leagues for the first time since 2015/16, according to the joint FIFA Player of the Century’s successor.
“We have come a long way and we have to continue this approach because the task is not yet over,” Dr Mesfer said. “There is still a long way to go and complete the journey.
“We are determined to repeat our victory, despite the difficulty of our task.”
The tie at Al Hamriyah Sports Club Stadium is also delicately poised after another Argentine hit man, Sebastian Saez, struck the only goal in Emirates’ 1-0 triumph.