Al Ain already in ‘must-win’ territory in the Asian Champions League, says Diaky

John McAuley reports on Al Ain's upcoming Asian Champions League match against Qatar's El Jaish, a crucial encounter hot on the heels of the UAE champions' loss to their Qatari counterparts to begin the group stage.

AL AIN // Ibrahim Diaky has called Al Ain's clash with El Jaish "must-win" if the UAE champions hope to progress beyond the Asian Champions League group stage.

Al Ain, the only side from the Emirates to lift the trophy, began their Group D account last week with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at home to Jaish. The Qataris were outplayed for much of the encounter, but Al Ain’s slack defending allowed the visitors to depart with the points.

With the return leg in Doha on Wednesday, and in a pool including Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf, Diaky says his side must get a victory to kick-start their Asian campaign. That begins, he says, with eradicating costly errors.

“If we want to qualify, of course we have to go there and beat them,” the midfielder said. “I’m sure with the quality we have in the team we can do it. We conceded two goals by our own mistakes, but I’m sure our team have the ability. They’re a very good team, but we have quality also. I believe in my team.

“Of course, the defeat was really painful because the first game is always very important, to get a good start and it’s always important to win. But I’m not worried. We have the quality, we have the squad, we just need to be more focused and work harder and I think we will qualify. I believe in it still, it’s just the beginning.

“As I said, if we really want to qualify it’s up to us to go to Qatar and show that we can fix our mistakes.”

Al Ain showed enough last week to suggest they can defeat Jaish, with the 2003 champions spurning a number of clear opportunities, including a missed penalty by Douglas.

The Brazilian has been heavily criticised for his contribution in the match – he did score Al Ain’s goal, another penalty – but responded at the weekend with two goals in the President’s Cup victory against Kalba.

Diaky says his new teammate, signed in January from Tokushima Vortis, has the club’s backing.

“I’m really glad and happy for him because he needs the confidence,” Diaky said. “Thankfully, he is coming back slowly. His two goals will give him more confidence to start the remaining games in a good way.

“He’s a good striker. We all believe in him. He just needs more time to understand exactly our way of playing. I’m sure he will get there, because he has the quality, he has the ability.”​

Al Ain’s ambitions extend beyond the group stage, especially since last season’s exit at the last-16 stage hurt following the previous year’s march to the semi-finals. That Al Ahli, their compatriots and fierce rivals, sent Al Ain out at the first knockout round was particularly painful, with the Dubai club lasting all the way to the final, eventually losing to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.

Diaky, though, says Ahli’s recent run on the continent does not motivate his side.

“We’re not focusing about Al Ahli,” he said. “We’re focusing on each game that we play now and we’ll take it step-by-step and try to win. Al Ahli is another team; Al Ain is another team. What Al Ahli are doing is not our problem.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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