Yokohama v Al Ain: Hernan Crespo confident his side can still clinch ACL final glory

UAE club lost 2-1 in first leg in Japan but can claim second continental crown in Garden City on May 25

Al Ain manager Hernan Crespo during the AFC Champions League final first leg against Yokohama F Marinos. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

Hernan Crespo said he is “very confident” Al Ain can claim the Asian Champions League title despite their narrow defeat to Yokohama F Marinos in the first leg on Saturday.

The UAE club, seeking to win the trophy for a second time and first in almost two decades, were defeated 2-1 at Yokohama International Stadium in Japan.

Contesting a fourth Champions League final, Al Ain had taken the lead through Mohammed Abbas’ 12th-minute goal but were pegged back in 72nd minute through Asahi Uenaka’s header and then beaten by Kouta Watanabe deflected effort six minutes from time.

Al Ain, runners-up in 2005 and 2016, will have to win the return at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25, something Crespo said he was convinced they could do – especially given it will most likely be a full house in the Garden City.

Asked how confident he is that Al Ain could still lift the trophy, the Argentine said: “I’m very confident, because we play at home and I know what it means to play at home with our fans. Today was not so easy because the [Marinos] fans shout and support their team, and in two weeks it will be the opposite.

“We need to take advantage of that. We believe we can do it.”

On Saturday, it could have been much better for Al Ain, champions in 2003, who had a second goal disallowed on the half hour. Matias Palacios’ strike was initially given, however, VAR intervened. Replays showed the Argentine midfielder was fractionally offside when he was sent through.

“We lost the first half [of the two-legged final] against a great opponent, who played very well, managed very well the ball," Crespo said. “Maybe in the second half we missed some points in terms of trying to be clinical.

Yokohama 2 Al Ain 1 - in pictures

“But it’s good, we need to analyse everything. We have another opportunity next time at home, and I hope it will be different.”

Crespo denied his players looked tired in the second half – he made only one substitution, in the 90th minute – and defended his decision to play once more on the counter-attack.

Soufiane Rahimi, the tournament’s top scorer with 11 goals, played furthest forward, with the Moroccan playing a huge role in Al Ain’s opener and then having another chance in the second half on the break.

“We didn’t build to fight for the Champions League and [not] play in that way with our priorities, and we reached this final,” Crespo said. “And our idea is to keep going in that way.

“Sometimes when you face a team that manage the ball very well, and congrats to them because they didn’t allow us to play better. They didn’t concede a lot. But, even like this, we had a few chances to score.”

Meanwhile, Marinos manager Harry Kewell, who has guided the J1 League club to their first Champions League final, said: "I give my players credit, they worked hard all game. They drove Al Ain into the ground with their passing and movement.

“We couldn't get that goal at the start, but we kept our discipline and commitment, and we got our reward in the end. I'm happy at this moment, but I know in this game it can be taken away from you so quickly.

"We have to understand that there is another 90 minutes to play and it's going to be very difficult. [The players] can enjoy the moment but there's still a long way to go in this tie."

Updated: May 11, 2024, 3:04 PM