Confidence running high as Al Ain are riding unbeaten streak
Buoyed by their recent success and progress to the last eight of the Champions League, Al Ain are looking to stop the Al Ahli juggernaut and their quest for history when the two teams meet in the final of the President’s Cup at Zayed Sports City on Sunday night.
Al Ain face Ahli for the fourth time this season, having lost the previous three meetings, including the season-opening Super Cup, when they met as the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) and President’s Cup champions.
But now, as the teams bring down the curtain on the domestic season, confidence in the Al Ain camp is higher than it has been this season.
Al Ain were eighth in the AGL table when Croatian Zlatko Dalic took over the reins of a struggling team, who had managed only seven wins in their first 19 league matches. In the 14 AGL and Champions League matches since, they have lost only twice and are on a 12-match unbeaten streak.
“When I came to Al Ain, I had some goals and ambitions with my new team,” Dalic said. “First, to improve our game, then to improve our position in the league, then finish among the first two in our Champions League group and after that, reach the quarter-final of the Champions League.”
Al Ain finished at the top of their Champions League group and then beat Al Jazira twice to make it to the last eight. At home, they eventually finished sixth in the AGL, but the President’s Cup offers them a chance of making sure they appear in the continental championship again next year.
“We have achieved everything,” Dalic said. “I thank the players for it, but we still have one target in front of us, one very important goal – the President’s Cup final. Inshallah, we’ll take this trophy and save the season.”
Al Ain have been busy over the past 12 days, with the two Champions League matches, their closing AGL games and a friendly against English Premier League champions Manchester City.
Dalic said his team could be a little tired after all those games, but the Croat is hoping for one “big” effort from his players to end the season on a high.
“Maybe at the moment we have a little problem,” he said. “We had two really tough matches against Jazira and spent a lot of energy. But come the final, nobody will have any excuse.
“This is only one game, the last game of the season and a big game for us. We must give everything for this game and I am sure my players will do that.
“This season, Ahli have won everything, so big respect for them. But I believe in my players. I trust them and I know that we can do it. I’m sure. I have big respect for Al Ahli’s players, but my team is the best.
“We are in good form at this moment and our confidence is high. We have not lost in the last 12 games. Our performance has been very good, but it misses a trophy. So if we can take the cup, that would be perfect.”
Road to the President’s Cup final
Round 3 – beat Emirates 3-1
Quarter-finals – beat Al Wahda 4-2
Semi-finals – beat Al Dhafra 2-1 after extra time
Round 3 – beat Al Shabab 4-1
Quarter-finals – beat Al Wasl 9-8 on penalties after 2-2 draw
Semi-finals – beat Al Nasr 2-1
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Published: May 17, 2014 04:00 AM