Erik 'very grateful' to be part of Al Ain's quest for Asian Champions League success

Defender played a decisive role in semi-final against Al Hilal and hopes to achieve continental glory against Yokohama F Marinos

Erik believes Al Ain fans can make a difference in AFC Champions League final

Erik believes Al Ain fans can make a difference in AFC Champions League final
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Despite being bogged down somewhat by the protective boot on his right foot, a consequence of the injury that curtailed his Asian Champions League semi-final, Erik still lit up at the thought of what had just passed.

And, more importantly, of what is to come.

“Bro, too much emotion for me,” the Al Ain full-back told The National, as the sensation of firing the club to a first continental final in almost a decade began to sink in. “Only God knows what I give in the last months … in my life.

“Always, when I go to training – the extra training, [eating the right] food, [getting enough] sleep – I do my best because the life of a professional player is like this. You need to work.

“And to get this gift from God today? I’m very happy for this.”

Al Ain fans will be grateful, too, for Erik’s contribution, however limited on the night it was. The Brazil-born defender struck the equaliser in the second leg against Al Hilal in Riyadh on Tuesday – a goal that ultimately proved decisive.

Al Ain lost the encounter 2-1 at Kingdom Arena but, having triumphed 4-2 in last week’s corresponding match in the Garden City, they prevailed 5-4 on aggregate.

As such, the 2003 Asian champions – Al Ain remain the only UAE side to lift the trophy – saw off the record, four-time winners to book a place in next month’s showpiece.

For Erik, it was the pleasure after the pain. Moments after his 11th-minute strike in the second leg, he went down under a challenge from Saud Abdulhamid and had to soon be substituted. Much to his anguish, he watched the remainder of a fraught match from the bench.

Hilal, needing another goal to force extra time, wasted a succession of golden chances in the second half to rescue the tie. To be fair, goalkeeper Khalid Essa was inspired; the Al Ain captain was later named man of the match.

Understandably, with Erik seeing the clash unfold from his position in the away dugout, it didn’t make for pleasant viewing – until the final whistle.

“My heart stopped [watching from the bench],” Erik said. “It was very difficult for me to stay outside. But I saw my friends, my players, my family, run a lot and they sacrifice, and this is very, very beautiful. Really.”

Al Ain survived and now face Yokohama F Marinos for the most coveted trophy in Asian club football. The Emiratis, runners-up twice since clinching the crown 21 years ago, will fight in the first leg in Japan on May 11 before hosting the decider two weeks later.

After contesting the second legs of both the quarter-final and semi-final, against Saudi Arabia’s top two teams, away from home, Erik recognises the significance of what is sure to be a packed Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25.

“We saw today, we saw in Al Nassr stadium [Al Ain won the quarter-final on penalties after losing the second leg in Riyadh 4-3]: if you make a good first game and go to your house, it’s like a halfway step to win [the tie]”, he said.

“Because the second game in home, the atmosphere, the fans want to help – and this is very beautiful for us.”

Aged only 23, Erik was two years old when Al Ain created history almost a quarter of a century ago. Buoyed by his semi-final success, he is eager for more next month.

“It’s our dream, the best dream, he said. “We have the opportunity in our hands, and we don’t know when it will come back. And, for sure, the team will give 200 per cent.

“I want to say thanks to God, because in 23 years, for me to make this history, I’m very grateful.

“Like I said, I don’t know when the chance come again. Al Ain took the trophy one time in their life and now we have now the opportunity to go to the final and give this gift for our fans.”

Updated: May 06, 2024, 9:26 AM