Doha will play host on Monday to a pair of critical 2019 AFC Champions League clashes when Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Al Hilal aim to keep building momentum and the UAE’s insipid Al Ain look for instant redemption.
The Crescent’s 100-per-cent start in a taxing Group C should be tested by Iran’s Esteghlal, currently a distant fourth in the Persian Gulf Pro League, at Hamad bin Khalifa Stadium. This fixture – technically an away match for the Saudi Professional League’s second-placed side – has been moved because of political considerations.
Across town at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium and in the same pool, Rui Faria’s recently deposed Qatar Stars League holders Al Duhail host an Al Ain that were humiliated 5-1 in ‘Al Clasico’ by rivals Al Jazira during midweek.
Victory for Zoran Mamic’s Hilal will put them on the cusp of the knockout stages and on track to end an aching 19-year wait for continental glory. The Boss, in contrast, need an uplifting result to stabilise their season that has descended into crisis.
“The reality is that Al Ain is not going well at the moment, but I trust my team’s ability to show its true character,” said coach Juan Carlos Garrido, whose side are now third in the Arabian Gulf League. “I always ask my players to show their fighting spirit.”
Al Wasl, meanwhile, will hope for a return to winning ways in Group A when they host Iran’s Zob Ahan and SPL leaders Al Nassr must register their first points versus Iraq’s Al Zawra’a.
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