Khalid Essa confident Al Ain can overcome Yokohama to win Asian Champions League final

UAE side trail 2-1 from the first leg but boast a formidable home record in this season's competition

Khalid Essa is banking on home support to carry Al Ain to victory over Yokohama F Marinos when they meet in Saturday's Asian Champions League final second leg. Getty
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Khalid Essa is confident Al Ain can overcome a 2-1 deficit to Yokohama F Marinos when they meet on Saturday in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final.

The Garden City club lost the reverse fixture two weeks ago in Tokyo but can count on considerable home support for the return leg at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

“I am not worried at all. On the contrary, I have a feeling of peacefulness," Essa said.

"On our way back home from Japan, I spoke with the team’s commissioner, Mohammed Obaid Hammad, and told him that I am ready now to take on the second leg match. It is not an exaggeration in confidence, more a feeling that is coming from the atmosphere that the team is witnessing."

Al Ain boast a formidable home record in this season's competition, winning all but one of their six matches through the group and knockout stages.

That included wins over highly fancied opposition in the form of Saudi powerhouses Al Nassr and Al Hilal. Nassr, led by the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo, fell to a 1-0 defeat in Al Ain while Hilal's world-record win streak of 34 matches was brought to a shuddering halt in a 4-2 defeat in the Garden City.

"No team who manages to reach the final of the Champions League does it by luck," Essa continued.

"There are several factors: hard work, effort, determination, planning, directions, recommendations, and limitless support ... and we have behind us our cheering fans who have always been supporting the team with all power they have, so I am not feeling worried at all.”

Under the guidance of former Chelsea, AC Milan and Argentina striker Hernan Crespo, Al Ain will bid to win only a second continental title. Following their 2003 triumph, Al Ain lost the 2005 and 2016 finals. They remain the only Emirati winner of the Asian Champions League.

Just over a year ago Crespo suffered the nadir of his coaching career while in charge at Al Duhail; the Qatari's were battered 7-0 in a one-legged semi-final against Al Hilal.

ACL Final first leg - in pictures

Fast forward 12 months and Crespo is on the cusp of becoming the first Argentine to win Asian club football's premier prize.

"Crespo has a feature that is not present in many football managers, for he has the capability to make the most out of the Arab players," said Essa, one of only three survivors in Al Ain's squad from their 2016 final defeat to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

"Many Arab players are naturally temperamental, but at every match Crespo sets a goal and motivates the team to realise it.”

A full house is expected at the 25,000-seater Hazza bin Zayed Stadium for Saturday's match, with Essa calling on all UAE football fans to come out in support of Al Ain.

"What distinguishes football in the UAE is the unusual support for the nation’s representative, whether a club or the national football team," Essa said.

"As a player, no matter what the competition is, you have the feeling of representing the nation. Saturday's game will be a day for the nation to remember."

Updated: May 24, 2024, 7:25 AM