Al Ain fans tip team to triumph in Asian Champions League final

Fanbase gears up for two of the biggest games in the football club's history

Al Ain fans during the second leg of the AFC Champions League semi-final against Al Hilal at Kingdom Arena, Riyadh. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Al Ain fans have waited almost a decade for their team to reach a fourth Asian Champions League final.

Winners in 2003, and runners-up twice since, Al Ain reached the final after eliminating Saudi giants Al Hilal and Al Nassr to face Yokohama F Marinos in the two-legged contest on May 11 and 25.

Knowing victory in the final could write a new chapter in the club's history, eager supporters spoke to The National as they look forward to cheering their team on.

We want to repeat the achievement of 2003 and be the champions of Asia again
Hamad Saeed, Al Ain supporter

Khalifa Al Nuaimi, 36, has supported the club since childhood and will be travelling to Japan for the first leg on May 11.

“Al Ain fans are not the 12th player but we're known as the first player in the team," he said. "We march and support our team wherever they go, each victory serving as a testament to the team's resilience and determination.

“We've been waiting for this moment for years and now that it's finally here, there's no holding back. Our team has fought tirelessly to reach this stage and, as fans, it's our duty to stand by them until the very end.”

Mr Al Nuaimi, an Emirati loyal to his local team, has watched Al Ain at home, in Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia, before adding Japan to that list.

“Al Ain is the underdog in this year’s tournament," he added. "Fans were worried at the beginning of the season but we are in the final.”

He hopes to return from Japan with a draw or 1-0 win to make the mission easier when they face each other again in his hometown.

“If the coach uses the same tactics in the previous matches, then we can surprise them.”

Al Ain endured a narrow 1-0 defeat in the UAE's ADIB Cup final against Al Wahda on Friday, but all thoughts will now turn to lifting the prestigious Asian crown for a second time later this month.

Repeating history

Hamad Saeed, 45, played football with the club in his younger years and became a lifetime supporter.

Mr Saeed said he dreams of seeing his team lift the trophy for a second time.

“We know the local league is important but all Al Ain fans aim to get the Asian title. We want to repeat the achievement of 2003 and be the champions of Asia again,” he said.

Mr Saeed attended all of Al Ain's local matches and travelled to Saudi Arabia when his team played against Al Nassr and Al Hilal.

“The turning point in our performance was when we defeated Al Nassr," he said. "We had poor results in the local league but we managed to qualify after the penalty shoot-out thanks to our goalkeeper Khalid Eisa.

“Our hopes grew bigger. Despite many thinking Al Hilal would knock us out in the semi-final, our players had a different opinion and qualified. We had the toughest matches but there is nothing impossible in our dictionary.”

Mr Saeed will be at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25 for the home match against Yokohama.

“I never missed a match for Al Ain in our home stadium. I can’t travel to Japan but will have a spot in the second leg,” he said.

“Al Ain always representing the UAE in Asian and international champions. All fans are proud of supporting the club during both the difficult and good times.”

Local pride

Suhail Al Muarrami, 37, booked his flight to Japan for May 7 with other friends and also secured a ticket in the stadium to support the team.

“It will be a tough match as I watched Yokohama playing in previous matches," he said. "They played well but our team will give them a hard time. Many fans are travelling from the UAE to Japan to support the team."

As is tradition, Mr Al Muarrami is planning to wear a white kandura, the UAE’s national dress, as a symbol of cultural identity and heritage.

“Al Ain fans are known for wearing white kandura in the stadium and waving the purple scarves to support the team,” he added. "It is part of our traditions as we are proud of our identify and culture."

He said the Asian title is the silverware fans crave the most.

“There is a mutual love between the club and the Asian Champions League," he said.

"Our ambition is higher than the local league and cups. Winning the Asian title will make Al Ain play in the Fifa Club World Cup and this will be remarkable.”

Mr Al Muarrami has supported the club since childhood – the stadium is only 200m from his home.

“All people in Al Ain support the club and we teach the love of the club to our children," he said.

"I have club membership and attend all matches. The passion of Al Ain fans is unmatched.”

Joy as Al Ain reach final - in pictures

Updated: May 06, 2024, 9:25 AM