Al Hilal v Al Ain: Hernan Crespo urges players to embrace the pressure in ACL semi-final

UAE club have 4-2 advantage going into Riyadh second leg

Al Hilal v Al Ain: Hernan Crespo urges players to embrace the pressure

Al Hilal v Al Ain: Hernan Crespo urges players to embrace the pressure
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Faced with one of the most important matches in Al Ain’s history, manager Hernan Crespo said his players must embrace the pressure and leave Tuesday’s Asian Champions League semi-final against Al Hilal in Riyadh with “no regrets”.

Al Ain, 2003 champions, are in pole position to reach the continental showpiece for the first time in eight years, with the UAE club 4-2 up from the first leg.

Soufiane Rahimi was the star man at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, scoring a first-half hat-trick – two of his goals were penalties – and winning a spot-kick for Al Ain’s fourth.

The victory, which snapped Hilal’s 34-match win streak, means Al Ain remain on track to emulate their celebrated side of 2003 – still the only Emirati team to lift the Champions League trophy.

However, Crespo insisted on Monday in Riyadh that Hilal, boasting the likes of Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Kalidou Koulibaly and Malcom, are the favourites going into the second leg at Kingdom Arena.

“First of all, we are very proud to be here in this semi-final,” the Argentine said. “We need to play at a high level because we face a great opponent. Their numbers speak for themselves in terms of a lot of good and positive results all season.

“Then we understand that they are favourites of this leg. But we are here to do our best and try to do something special.”

Crespo, enjoying his first season in charge of the Garden City club, said he welcomed what is sure to be a vocal and vociferous support in the Saudi Arabian capital. The match is expected to be a sell-out, with Al Ain fans granted around six per cent of the 25,000-plus capacity.

“I hope the pressure of the [Hilal] fans is there,” Crespo said. “We live with this passion, and we want to face this experience, at a high level, when a lot of fans to come to the stadium.

“We know the Al Hilal fans and we respect everybody, but we try to do our best in terms of what we have. We made a great first leg, but it’s not finished yet.

“We face a team with a lot of stars, a team that was built to win the Champions League. We know that. But we deserve to be here.”

Asked how he intended to ensure his players use the magnitude of the moment to their advantage rather than be overawed by it, Crespo said plainly: “We will discover tomorrow. We know very well this is a very good and a very special moment to feel pressure.

“We work and we dream for these moments, as kids. We respect everybody, but the most important things is we respect ourselves. We want to give everything just to play and to not have regrets; to give the 100 per cent that we have.

“I don’t know if it will be enough or not, because the result is a consequence. You never know; you can’t control that.

“But at the same time, we are very proud of this opportunity that we reached with our own hands. We worked very hard to reach this moment, but we want more.

“Because we respect ourselves, we respect our fans. A lot of people are coming from the UAE, and I hope at the end of this second leg we give them a great gift.”

Al Ain defender Khalid Al Hashemi added: “We respect all the Al Hilal players. We don’t feel afraid of any players; what we are afraid of is that we need to be at the level we prepared for.

“The main goal is not to destroy Al Hilal. Or goal is always to make success for ourselves with wins, and we did it [in the first leg].

“The mission is not over. Tomorrow is a very big match that we still have to play. We try to do more and more and try everything to make it all the way to the final.”

Updated: May 06, 2024, 8:48 AM