'We need our fans' - Al Ain's Kaku says home support will fuel fightback in ACL final

UAE side trail 2-1 to Yokohama but host second leg at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25

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Al Ain playmaker Kaku says his team need to believe they can turn around the Asian Champions League final in two weeks’ time, stressing that home support in the second leg could drive the club to a second continental title.

The UAE side were beaten 2-1 by Yokohama F Marinos in the first leg at a packed Yokohama International Stadium in Japan on Saturday, despite the visitors taking an early lead through Mohammed Abbas.

Al Ain conceded twice in a 12-minute spell late in the game, meaning they have it all to do at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25 if they are to clinch the trophy. Champions in 2003, and as such the only Emirati club to capture the crown, Al Ain have twice since finished runners-up, in 2005 and 2016.

Speaking to The National after Saturday’s narrow defeat, Kaku said: “In the first half we played very well, but the second half was completely different. We had to just concentrate a little more.

“It’s normal, though. The first half we run a lot, we pressured, and the second half, Yokohama changed the players. But we need to stay calm, stay with confidence. We play in our home with our fans – it’s completely different there. I believe in my team.”

Almost 54,000 fans filled the stadium on Saturday night – the large majority of which, understandably, were cheering on the home side. Their support paid off in the end, with Asahi Uenaka equalising in the 72nd minute and Kouta Watanabe deflecting a shot past Khalid Essa six minutes from time. Competing in their first Champions League final, the Marinos had never previously been beyond the last 16.

However, Al Ain will point to their impressive home form in this season’s tournament: they have won all but one of their six matches, including defeating Saudi Arabian heavyweights Al Nassr and Al Hilal in the two previous rounds.

“It’s different: it’s summer, our fans pressure [the opposition] so much, the pitch is close to the fans,” Kaku said. “But we need to play with confidence and stay together. Believe. Only believe. And a good result will come.”

Asked about the mood among the Al Ain players directly after the first-leg loss, the Paraguayan said: “A little sad, but we need to stay confident, we need to stay together in this moment. We can get a good result in our home.”

Teammate Park Yong-woo, who like Kaku played the entirety of the opening encounter, added: “It was a tough game; Yokohama played very well. The first half, we were aggressive and defended very well. We have the power, we blocked them, but in the second half we had less stamina. It was difficult for us.

“It’s very important to have the second leg in Al Ain. Our stadium is very strong, all our fans support unbelievably. We can win in our home.”

Updated: May 12, 2024, 7:27 AM