Eliminated and deflated Al Ain intend to make “a good impression” when they wind up their 2019 AFC Champions League commitments in Monday’s dead rubber against Iran’s Esteghlal.
A miserable contest awaits at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Both sides have conceded their domestic titles in recent weeks, plus cannot proceed from Group C’s final round in the continental competition.
For the hosts, this is the first time they’ve failed to advance into the knockouts in six years. Coach Juan Carlos Garrido, however, insisted there was still something to play for during their last run-out of an unfulfilling campaign.
“Despite the fact that the team is out of the competition as one of two qualifiers for the round of 16, it is a good opportunity for some to leave a good impression,” said the ex-Villarreal tactician, whose short-term deal in the Garden City imminently expires.
“We are required to show fighting spirit and achieve a strong result at the end of our Asian games.
“The truth is that our next game is very important for the reasons I have mentioned before, so we will work to show our best. We will adopt the best methods to appear well at the end of our Champions League matches.”
The sides played out a 1-1 draw in Tehran during March, meaning victory on home soil for the beaten 2016 finalists will at least save them the indignity of finishing last.
There is also a familiar face in the Esteghlal ranks, which will painfully remind Al Ain of better times. Coach Farhad Majidi played an influential role in the Boss’ 2002/03 ACL success, scoring in the semi-finals against China’s Dalian Shide en route to glory.
Al Ain’s current No9, Marcus Berg, has not been able to deliver such joy in a poor second season. The out-of-sorts Sweden marksman has notched just once in his last 19 matches for club and country.
“Every team is looking forward to the three points, especially for us, because we are going to play the last game at home,” said Berg, who is expected to be replaced by Al Taawoun’s Leandre Tawamba in the summer. “We would like to leave a good impression with the conclusion of our matches at home and we will work to appear in a dignified way.”
Al Ain travel to Al Wahda on Saturday for their final top-flight fixture. Victory will salvage 2020 ACL qualification from a sorry season.
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