Al Ain’s demanding schedule will not impinge on their desire to improve on last year’s run to the AFC Champions League semi-finals, according to coach Zlatko Dalic.
The Boss are in the middle of a frantic fortnight featuring five fixtures. They gained revenge with a 3-0 victory on Saturday for a losing start in their domestic double-header against Fujairah, with tonight’s match at Naft Tehran providing a tough second continental Group B test after last Tuesday’s goalless opener versus Al Shabab Riyadh.
Sunday’s crunch Arabian Gulf League clash for the leaders against second-placed Al Jazira is also to come, meaning there is plenty for their Croatian supremo to ponder.
— The-AFC.com (@theafcdotcom) March 2, 2015
This hectic run has limited his preparation time, but Dalic declined to use this as an excuse ahead of the crucial match at the Persian Gulf Pro League leaders.
“72 hours ago we faced Fujairah at our ground, so there is no adequate space for training before facing Naft Tehran,” he said in the Iranian capital yesterday.
“We will deal with these circumstances realistically and take each game at a time to achieve the desired goals. Last season, we got to the semifinals of the AFC Champions League and in the current season we are required to reach beyond where we came in the last version.”
Alireza Mansourian’s Naft will provide a sizable examination of the Boss’ Asian hopes. A fevered atmosphere is guaranteed at the 100,000-capacity Azadi Stadium, the hosts eager to recover after tasting 2-1 defeat to Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor during their first-ever ACL group-stage match last week.
Al Ain will be fighting history of their own, enduring six previous winless trips to Iran in the competition. Their hopes of an improvement have been increased by the return to action of UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman, the playmaker coming on as a half-time substitute at the weekend following three weeks’ inactivity because of a hamstring complaint.
An Iranian club has not lifted the ACL crown since the tournament’s inaugural running in its current guise during the 2002/03 season.
Despite this lack of recent pedigree, defender Ismail Ahmed was aware of Naft’s threat. He said: “Everyone knows the power of the Iranian clubs. The teams that lead the league are all powerful clubs.
“It will not be easy but we are determined to win, with all due respect to Naft Tehran.”
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