ABU DHABI // Rivaldo, the Fifa and European Footballer of the Year in 1999, is the danger man confronting Al Wahda when they meet Bunyodkor, the Uzbekistan club, in the Asian Champions League (ACL) Group B at the Al Nahyan Stadium tonight. The Brazilian forward, 37, began his career in Uzbekistan with a two-year contract worth ?10.2 million (Dh51.1m) and has signed a new deal for an undisclosed sum, which keeps him in the Central Asian nation until June of next year.
And Rivaldo wants to reward their faith by winning the prestigious club title, saying: "This year we have a stronger squad and we have a good chance of going all the way. "We got off to a great start by winning the first game against last year's finalist Al Ittihad [of Saudi Arabia, 3-0] and hopefully will continue with the same kind of performance and results." Rivaldo is joined by Denilson, who crossed over after helping Pohang Steelers, of South Korea, to win the ACL last year.
"Denilson is a wonderful addition to the squad," said Rivaldo. "He has played in this competition and brings in a lot of experience. He is in great shape and a threat to any team." Rivaldo was too modest to speak of his own abilities but Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, blew his trumpet for him, saying: "He was one of the finest players and still retains some of those abilities. On-ball, he is dangerous because not only can he shoot but create chances."
Hickersberger is sure to have a player closely marking Rivaldo in this decisive game for Wahda. "It has turned out to be decisive match for us after losing to the Iranian side Zobahan away in the opening night of the continental championship," he said. "Bunyodkor are the favourites in the group and they play a fast and offensive game, but we need to win our home matches if we fancy our chances of reaching the second round.
"We have a pretty good side with some of the national team players back in the squad. "They have some star players and so do we. And we will play at home and on conditions better than our first game in Iran. "We had to play in adverse weather conditions and the pitch was slippery in the defeat to Zobahan in Iran. "It was hard to control the ball and it played into the home team's strength. That defeat was not a result to get disappointed."
Ismail Matar returns for Wahda from an injury that kept him out of the first ACL game and the national team's 1-0 away win over Uzbekistan in the final game of the group stage in the 2011 Asian Cup qualifiers last week. Wahda will miss Magrao, the Brazilian midfielder, with an ankle injury and his place is expected to be filled by Hassan Mudhafar, the Oman international. Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Bunyodkor coach, feels his team's bright start to the competition was a confidence booster for a side starting in the ACL before their own domestic league.
"We have to play teams that are in the middle of their season and they are better prepared than us," said Brazil's World Cup-winning coach. "It is a little bit difficult when we have to play our first competitive game in the ACL." Tonight's match kicks off at 7.20pm. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org