Mahdi Ali urges Shabab Al Ahli to begin Asian Champions League with 'important' win

Dubai club arrive at tournament on the back of three successive Pro League defeats

Mahdi Ali believes playing all Asian Champions League group games in one country can benefit Shabab Al-Ahli . Chris Whiteoak/ The National
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Shabab Al Ahli manager Mahdi Ali has urged his players to begin their Asian Champions League campaign with a win when they face Ahal FC of Turkmenistan on Thursday, but admitted facing opponents they know little about presents a unique set of challenges.

The Dubai club have been drawn in Group C and will, along with the rest of the tournament's clubs from the west, play all their matches in Saudi Arabia.

First up for Shabab Al Ahli is tournament debutants Ahal at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, and Mahdi Ali is eager for his team to put their recent domestic slump behind them and return to winning ways in the Champions League.

“The match is important because you want to win your first game,” the Emirati manager said. “It will be difficult when we are playing against a team who we have very little information on, so I hope it will not affect us on the pitch. It is important to prepare the team well and urge our players to adapt to the situation.”

Shabab Al Ahli arrive in the competition on the back of three defeats in the Adnoc Pro League but Mahdi Ali believes the the centralised format in the group stage might well be what his team needs to turn a corner.

“This format is better than the home and away considering our circumstances,” he said. “It gives the team an opportunity to focus only on one tournament and not multiple tournaments. This might prove to work in our favour.”

Shabab Al Ahli goalkeeper Majed Naser echoed his manager's sentiments and called on his teammates to get their campaign started on the right foot.

“We need this important three points but we must respect the team,” Naser said. “We must play our best and do not underestimate them, especially in the AFC Champions League where every team has quality players.”

Ahal manager Muhadov Rovshen is hoping for a dream start to their campaign after becoming only the second club from Turkmenistan to qualify for Asia’s premium club competition.

“We are proud to be among the best clubs in Asia and happy to be part of this tournament,” he said. “The team has prepared well and we are ready to show a good and quality game of football against a very good team.

“Our goal is simple: qualify for the next round. There are good clubs in our group but every team has a chance to advance.”

Also in Group C, Al Gharafa of Qatar take on Iranian side Foolad Khouzestan in their opener at the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium also on the same night.

Al Jazira and Sharjah are the other two teams representing the UAE in the Asian Champions League.

Jazira, the Pro League champions, meet Air Force Club of Iraq, while India's Mumbai City makes their debut in the competition against Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia, both in Group B in Riyadh on Friday.

On the same night in Riyadh, Sharjah have a tough opener against defending champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia in a Group C which also include Istiklol of Turkmenistan and Qatar’s Al Rayyan in Riyadh.

Updated: April 07, 2022, 8:05 AM