Al Ain boss Zlatko Dalic is convinced he and his players can withstand the pressure tonight’s AFC Champions League round-of-16, second leg against Al Ahli will heap on them.
The Boss come into their final match of an otherwise-triumphant campaign under the microscope after their President’s Cup defence ended at the quarter-final stage on Saturday.
Ibrahima Toure’s 89th-minute winner for Al Nasr saw a quest to add to the Arabian Gulf League crown end in frustrating fashion and raised question marks about their continental destiny after a cagey goalless opener registered in Dubai last week.
When asked whether this deciding match at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium had the most riding on it of any Dalic has faced during his successful 15-month spell in charge, he replied assuredly: “For Al Ain, it has been 11 months of pressure, every day is pressure.
Hard game behind us, it is all in our hands, we have the strength and spirit to win!
— Zlatko Dalic (@DalicZlatko) May 21, 2015
“I didn’t have any day without pressure – it is a big club, everyone expects results.
“I’m ready and my players are ready for this pressure. I told you before, my goals were to win the championship and proceed to the last eight in Asia.
“But this is our job, every time pressure and everybody expects a win.
“Inshallah, if we pass this game I’ll be very happy because I’ll know my team, me and my staff had a fantastic season.
“But this is no reason to play nervous. My players must play a smart game.
“I’m not afraid for anything. I repeat many times, I trust my players.
“They understand what this game means for us. They will be ready – I know we’ll play a fantastic game, will do everything and finish with a good result.
“But believe me, this game will be for us the most important game this season.”
— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) May 25, 2015
Al Ain had stormed through the 2014/15 season, previously.
They finished nine points clear of second-placed Al Jazira in the top flight and own the only unbeaten record in the 2015 ACL after they topped a tough-looking Group B.
Dalic oversaw a disciplined display during last Wednesday’s meeting at Rashid Stadium, leaving the tie delicately balanced.
These achievements have been amplified by a draining fixture list which began with a run to last year’s ACL semi-finals and ended with seven matches in May across three competitions.
“It will be the last game in the season for my team,” the Croatian said.
“Really, it has been a very, very long season for us, difficult to keep high level all season in which for 11 months we play a high level.
“I hope my players, my team will find power, will find energy to play same style and same level.
“We have done a hard job. We have a hard job left.
“I’m sure my team will give everything. We have positive result from first game, 0-0.
“We played four games against Al Ahli this season, each game was very tough, strong, tight. Two times draw, one time won, one lost – I expect also same style, same fight.
“0-0 is a positive result, we don’t have any reason to be nervous, to play quickly, play fast.
“We have to play with a good defence and be careful.
“I’m sure my team will create some chances, but we have to take care about the counter-attack and about our own goal.”
Star player Omar Abdulrahman’s heartache was evident as he collapsed to the ground upon the final whistle at Al Maktoum Stadium last weekend.
He was still aware of the upset when discussing motivation for the clash against perennial rivals, Ahli.
He said: “For sure, it is a very, very important game for everyone at the club. We have a lot of respect for Ahli, and Inshallah the result will be on our side.
“It is not just the fans who are upset – we as players and everyone else at the club are upset.
“We hoped we would go further in the President’s Cup. But it didn’t happen.”
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