Frustrated coach Zlatko Dalic bemoaned an opportunity lost as Al Ain let a lead slip in their opening 2016 AFC Champions League final defeat at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, but is confident they can get the job done next week.
The 2002/03 winners went ahead on 63 minutes through Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla’s half volley, only for outstanding Brazilian attacker Leonardo to soon exert his class with a brace which gave the South Korean heavyweights a slim advantage heading into next Saturday’s decider at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
“I can be happy with the performance of my players tonight, but I cannot be satisfied with the result,” said a deflated Dalic, after a thrilling clash at a lively Jeonju World Cup Stadium. I’m convinced we didn’t deserve to lose the game, but we did enough for the second leg at home.
“We played against a very, very strong team who have big support from 40,000 people pushing their team forward. But it will be a big game at our home. When you play away and you score a goal and lose 2-1, you should be happy with this result, but we are not.
“But we have a chance – I have confidence in my players.” 2006 champions Jeonbuk exhibited their strength of character with a strong response to Asprilla’s hopeful attempt, in an entertaining match from which momentum swung from side to side.
Only China’s Guangzhou Evergrande have won the competition on away goals, when they triumphed against FC Seoul when this format was initiated three years ago. Green Warriors coach Choi Kang-hee was confident his charges would not suffer the same fate as their Korean rivals.
He said: “We have 90 minutes more, but we are in a good position to win the Champions League. Today’s result is not that important at all — we need to overcome the away match. All the players didn’t want to concede, however we’ll approach the second leg with the mentality to win.”
Dalic drew strength from the reaction of his players to the result, believing this evidenced a desire to add just a second continental crown in a week’s time.
“It will be a big fight there,” said the 50-year-old. “But I’m convinced, I’m sure, we will play a fantastic game because we fight to be champion.
“It will not be easy – it’s a competitive team, a compact team. But tonight I’m happy because I saw my players in the dressing room afterwards and they are very, very disappointed.
“They are very sad because they saw they could play this game, a close game, but they lost.”