Zlatko Dalic says Al Ain fans' treatment of Douglas was harsh ahead of Al Hilal clash in AFC Champions League quarter-finals

Matt Jones 19/08/2017
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Former Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic claims the criticism striker Douglas received following his penalty miss in last year’s AFC Champions League final was undeserved, and he is happy to see him back in Boss colours.

Douglas, 29, was deregistered by the club at the start of 2017 following a crisis of confidence in the wake of his critical miss during defeat to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Douglas blazed horribly over just before half time after Danilo Asprilla had been scythed down – his miss crucial as Al Ain drew the second leg of the final at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium 1-1, which saw Jeonbuk lift the trophy 3-2 on aggregate.

The club had been looking to offload the broken Brazillian, but brought him back in from the cold after he featured in just seven games after his spot kick woe.

He is now likely to start tomorrow’s quarter-final first leg tie against Al Hilal in the Garden City alongside summer arrival Marcus Berg. And the man who brought him to the UAE from Japan’s Tokushima Vortis is delighted to see him back.

“We brought Douglas to Al Ain as the best player of the Japanese League. He did not deserve that kind of pressure from the fans,” Dalic, who left Al Ain in January in the wake of their final heartache, told the-afc.com.

“He had not found a way of wrestling off that pressure and he fell under it as did the management of the club. I am very happy he is back where he belongs, in the team of Al Ain, he deserves (to be successful) as a player and also as a person.”

Dalic won the Arabian Gulf Super Cup, Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup with the Boss and also coached the Crescent to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Cup in 2013.

And after both clubs have featured in two of the last three ACL finals, the Croat feels it is time for a UAE or Saudi club to finally lift the continent’s biggest club football prize.

“It is about time the final is won by one of these teams,” he said.

“Because in the last three years all finals played were lost by clubs from this region; Al Hilal, Al Ahli (now Shabab Al Ahli Dubai) and Al Ain. They were defeated by clubs from Australia, China and South Korea.

“Both teams have big ambitions in this tournament, last season Al Ain were in the final and Al Hilal were there three years ago. It will be a big clash.”

Dalic could not pick a winner from his two former clubs, choosing instead to sit on the fence for what is sure to be a packed house at the Hazza. But he does feel Hilal must head back to Riyadh having secured an away goal.

“Chances are 50-50, both teams have the same problem – both legs come at the very beginning of the season. Both teams have a lot of experience of what is it like to be in the AFC Champions League,” said Dalic.

“Both teams have a lot of quality players, in this match the game changer will not be an individual but the whole team as a unit.

“The stadium will be packed, so many passionate fans can only be strength, motivation and big support to the team. Al Hilal have great fans and I witnessed that a couple of times.

“It is always important in the away games to achieve at least one goal. To achieve a positive result which will give hope for the home game. This match-up is about teams of close quality and both matches will be important.”

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Al Ain striker Marcus Berg says there is 'no limit' to Al Ain's ambition next season

Matt Jones 16/08/2017
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Marcus Berg says there is “no limit” to Al Ain’s ambitions for the new season as the Boss prepare for a mouthwatering AFC Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal next week.

The Garden City side are back in the UAE after their pre-season European tour and warmed up for Monday’s first-leg clash at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium with a routine 3-0 friendly win against Bahrain’s Al Muharraq on Tuesday – in which Berg bagged a brace.

“We are entering the final stage of preparations for the new season and are looking to launch a strong challenge in the first leg of the quarter-final against Al Hilal,” said the 30-year-old Swede, who joined from Greece’s Panathinaikos earlier this summer.

“We have a high ceiling for our ambitions in the new football season. We have great confidence in our ability to achieve a strong result on Monday that will pave the way for us to make it to the semi-finals, especially playing at home among our fans.

“That will strengthen the incentives for the players.”

The Boss return to continental action having dismantled Iran’s Esteghlal 6-2 on aggregate in the last 16 in May, while Monday’s opponents also overcame Iranian opposition in Esteghlal Khuzestan, with Ramon Diaz’s men winning 4-2 over two legs.

Berg is likely to be partnered in attack by Douglas on Monday. The Brazilian was the forgotten man in the Garden City after his confidence plummeted following a penalty miss in the second leg of the ACL final against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors last November.

Douglas (2nd l) is congratulated after scoring on Tuesday

Douglas (2nd l) is congratulated after scoring on Tuesday

The 29-year-old was set to be jettisoned but has been brought back in from the cold by Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic this summer after only featuring in seven more games during 2016/17 following the club’s ACL heartache.

He has been included in Al Ain’s renewed 30-man squad list for the remainder of the tournament, as has Japanese defender Tsukasa Shiotani, who joined the club in June.

Douglas opened the scoring for Al Ain in the behind closed doors match at the Hazza on Tuesday.

Hilal, meanwhile, came out on top of a seven-goal thriller in their second match of the new Saudi Pro League season, beating Al Taawoun 4-3 to make it two wins from two – although their porous defence might provide some hope for Al Ain.

Former Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi was on the bench for the Crescent after a summer move from Reading, but is not registered for the ACL. In what could be a further boost for the Boss, Hilal’s Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Milesi was also forced off injured in the 33rd minute.

The opening leg of the quarter-final will be played at the Hazza on Monday, kick-off at 19:50.

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Al Mazroui had Al AIn v Al Hilal Champions League premonition at airport

Matt Jones 7/06/2017
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Al Ain and Omar Abdulrahman face familiar opposition in Al Hilal

As soon as Ahmed Al Mazroui saw an Al Hilal supporters’ banner when he touched down at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, he knew they would be drawn as Al Ain’s opponents in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League.

And so it transpired yesterday at around 12:00 UAE time as the Boss and the Crescent were the first two names pulled out of the hat in Malaysia.

Two of the biggest clubs in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the pitting of the two teams against each other will evoke memories of their 2014 ACL semi-final clash and a 3-0 drubbing handed out to Al Ain by Hilal in front of a raucous 57,000 King Fahd International Stadium that took the tie away from them.

The two giants of Gulf football will clash at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on August 21 with the second leg in Riyadh taking place two weeks later on September 11.

Al Mazroui, vice chairman of Al Ain’s board of directors, flew to the Far East as the club’s representative at the ACL last eight draw and claimed he was not surprised to be paired with Hilal, who overcame Esteghlal Khuzestan 4-2 on aggregate in the last 16 after topping Group D.

“I certainly expected us to be drawn against Al Hilal,” said Al Mazroui.

“Personally I expected to face Hilal since the moment I arrived at the Kuala Lumpur airport, when I saw a Hilal banner.”

Al Mazroui also expressed pride at the club reaching the last eight for the third time in four seasons.

“The team wants to compete for the Champions League title and have had a hard number of games on the continent which has driven us to achieve the best results and got us here,” he added.

“We have been challengers for the continental title in the last three seasons. We have potential and a strong desire to restore the continental title to our beloved country to repeat the Asian achievement we achieved in 2003.

“I think that the chances of all the teams that qualified for the quarter-finals are equal and everyone here deserves to be so.”

The two teams have clashed four times in total in the competition, in 2014 and a year earlier, with two wins apiece.

And Hilal team manager Faisal Al Farshan hopes the two-legged tie will be befitting of the rivalry between the sides.

“We are looking forward to make a match worthy of the name of the reputation of the two clubs,” he said.

“The performance of the two teams this season have won praise and appreciation off everyone.”

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