Al Ain aim to make it another frustrating Champions League night for Ronaldo and Al Nassr

Defender Erik wants repeat performance from UAE team as they head to Riyadh with 1-0 advantage from quarter-final first leg

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Al Ain defender Erik says replicating the endeavour shown last week against Al Nassr will be key to his side seeing off Cristiano Ronaldo and Co and advancing to the Asian Champions League semi-finals.

Al Ain, the 2003 champions, head into Monday’s quarter-final second leg in Riyadh with a 1-0 advantage after a deserved and hard-fought victory in the Garden City six days ago.

Hernan Crespo’s side gave one of their best performances of the season to prevail at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, with Sofiane Rahimi’s goal late in the first half proving decisive.

Nassr, though, promise to offer an even sterner test at their Al Awwal Park, with captain Ronaldo sure to play a prominent role following a frustrating night for the Portugal star in Al Ain.

“We know there is a different game, but it’s the same as we did in the first match,” Al Ain full-back Erik told The National. “If you make it simple but with doing everything very good, this is the secret. If you go with aggression, keep the ball, and try to play football, I think we can win there.

“Because you know the last games Al Nassr had at home, they lost. And, God willing, we can go and take a good result there.”

Indeed, Nassr go into the match off the back of Thursday’s Saudi Pro League defeat at home to Al Raed.

It marked the second successive home game in which they have dropped points – they drew 4-4 with bottom side Al Hazem on February 29 – with Nassr, second in the Saudi top-flight, slipping 12 points behind leaders Al Hilal.

Erik, a standout for Al Ain since joining in 2020, said his team are intent on maintaining the pressure in the Saudi capital on Monday night.

“Football is sometimes simple, but it is very difficult,” the Brazilian said. “We try to go with aggression without the ball, and if you keep the ball more Al Nassr cannot score.

“When we had the ball, we tried to play, we tried to make passes for Al Nassr to run, they lost their energy, and we took a good result.

“Like I said, we have to do the same as the first match. We don’t have the secret. Work hard and give the best there because, again, it’s a difficult game.

“But [in the first leg] we showed we can win the second game and go to the semi-final.”

Erik was one of Al Ain’s best players in the opening encounter, where he clearly enjoyed the direct confrontation with Ronaldo. The pair were seen exchanging words at different times during the game, but the left-back insisted it was all done in the spirit of the contest.

“Sometimes we want to defend our side and we talk about some moments, but it’s not personal,” Erik said. “Cristiano for me, I don’t know, he’s like my inspiration. I was like a crazy player because I follow Cristiano, but in the pitch always we want to win, and we want to do the best.

“Ronaldo speaks about this when does interviews; ‘for me, I’m the best, I need to think about this and I need to put my best on the pitch, always’.

“I’m very proud because I work all my life, every time for these moments, for big games, for playing against big players – because we show our quality when we have the best players in the pitch.

“I want to say thank God because I sacrifice so much to make one good game [in the first leg], good quality with good runs and good speed. And I want to say thank God for preparing me for this.”

No doubt, Al Ain were helped last week by a partisan support at a packed Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. However, they will encounter the opposite on Monday, with Al Awwal Park expected to be a sell-out.

Erik, though, called on his teammates to embrace the anticipated hostile atmosphere.

“But, for me, the pressure is good,” he said. “It helps to give you more focus. Sometimes if you don’t have this pressure, it’s like training, and you won’t have the same motivation to go and give your best.”

Updated: March 11, 2024, 3:18 AM