Yokohama v Al Ain: UAE side backed to grasp 'historic opportunity' in ACL final

Team supervisor Obaid Hammad tips players to become legends of Emirati football by overcoming Japanese opponents

Al Ain's Alejandro Romero, left, Matias Palacios and Soufiane Rahimi, right, celebrate progression to the ACL final. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

Al Ain’s current crop deserve their place in history as they look this month to secure a second Asian Champions League for the club, according to their team supervisor.

The UAE side, the only club from the Emirates to be crowned continental champions, are seeking to emulate their celebrated 2003 predecessors when they take on Yokohama F Marinos across two legs in the final.

Al Ain have travelled to Japan for the first leg at the Yokohama International Stadium on Saturday, before they host their rivals for the trophy at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the return fixture on May 25.

Al Ain last contested a Champions League final in 2016 – their third overall – while the Marinos have never before reached the showpiece.

Speaking on Thursday, once the Al Ain party had landed in Japan, team supervisor Mohammed Obaid Hammad said: “The players have a historic opportunity to acquire glory and write golden chapters in the sky of Asian football.

“But we fully respect the ambitions of our opponent also. However, our players have shown their high capabilities and great desire to reflect the supreme care, generous support and increased attention they have received from the club's leadership, and turn it into an outstanding performance and remarkable results.

“Our goal is driven by the players’ sincere love for the UAE and their absolute belief that their mission is 100 per cent for the country.”

Al Ain saw off Saudi Arabia’s two top teams en route the final, defeating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr in the quarter-final via a penalty shoot-out in April before dispatching Al Hilal 5-4 on aggregate in the last four earlier this month.

Record four-time Asian champions, the 4-2 defeat in the first leg in the UAE, halted Al Hilal’s 34-match win streak – considered a world record.

“In my belief, the Al Ain players deserve to have their names associated with this important historical stage of the club,” Obaid Hammad said. “They deserve to be among the names that contributed with unprecedented achievements in the history of Emirati football.”

On the role of Al Ain’s supporters, Obaid Hammad added: “Al Ain fans have consistently demonstrated, in action and words, their superiority and their distinctive and critical role in enhancing the club's continental strength by supporting our aspirations since the beginning of the Asian journey until reaching the final.

“We ask Almighty God to grant success to the team in winning the Asian Champions League and earning the second star in the name of Emirati football.”

Al Ain, who were greeted at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport by the UAE ambassador to Japan, wasted little time in ramping up preparations for Saturday’s encounter, with Hernan Crespo putting his 23-man squad through their paces during a training session late on Thursday.

There remain question marks surrounding the fitness of Brazil-born full-back Erik, who sustained a foot injury during the second leg against Al Hilal in Riyadh.

Only minutes before, Erik had equalised on the night for Al Ain, a goal that ultimately sealed their place in the final. He returned to light training earlier this week, and is part of the squad in Japan.

Updated: May 09, 2024, 4:00 PM