Al Hilal v Al Ain: Jorge Jesus confident of ACL semi-final comeback

Saudi Pro League giants trail 4-2 going into Tuesday night's second leg in Riyadh

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Jorge Jesus says Al Hilal have full belief in their ability to overcome a two-goal deficit against Al Ain on Tuesday night and qualify for the Asian Champions League final.

The record four-time winners – runners-up last year – go into the semi-final second leg at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh 4-2 down after Al Ain’s impressive display in the UAE last week.

The result at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium not only represented Hilal’s first defeat in this season’s competition, but it also brought to a close the Saudi Pro League leaders’ 34-match winning streak – a reported world record.

However, speaking on Monday at the official pre-match press conference, manager Jesus said: “It’s the first time that we play a game in the knockout stage with a disadvantage. But, at the same time, we believe in the values that we have in our players and in the presence and support of the fans.

“Still, we trust that we can make the comeback. That’s the will of all the players, the fans and Al Hilal club itself, so we believe that we can make a good comeback and qualify for the final.”

Jesus added: “We believe in what we will be able to do tomorrow, mainly because of how I see the confidence level in the players, in the group, and they have the capacity in which they all believe they can make a good comeback. First of all, to recover the two goals and then to qualify for the final.”

Hilal go into the match without the services of long-term absentee Neymar, but perhaps more crucially, primary frontman Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian international, who has 33 goals in 35 appearances in his debut season with the club, has missed the past five games because of a hamstring issue.

Al Ain will, of course, look to exploit any weaknesses in their Saudi Arabian opponent, with Jesus wary of the threat the 2003 Asian champions carry, even away from home following their penalty shoot-out win in last month's quarter-final against Hilal’s cross-city rivals Al Nassr.

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

“We know our opponent, we know how difficult a team they are,” the Portuguese said. “They showed it in their home and away matches against Al Nassr. They defend well, they have quality also."

Sitting alongside Jesus on Monday, Hilal midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic said: “We know that tomorrow will be a difficult game for us. But we prepared well; we watched the game we played in Al Ain, so we saw our mistakes. And we did three or four good training [sessions] here – the team is good.

“So I believe tomorrow we will do a good game, and deliver everything that we prepared. I’m happy because I can see in my teammates’ eyes that they want to do a good game, to make a huge win, and go to the final.”

On whether a first defeat since September had rocked Hilal, the Serbian international said: “Of course, we believe we can win tomorrow. We won 34 games in a row, so one game that we lose does not take away our confidence.

“We analysed the game, we know where we made our mistakes, and we are ready for tomorrow.”

Updated: April 23, 2024, 6:50 AM