Hernan Crespo urges Al Ain fans to cheer team to ACL final victory against Yokohama

Garden City club look to overcome 2-1 deficit in Asian Champions League final second leg on Saturday

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Hernan Crespo says Al Ain believe in their bid to capture the Asian Champions League trophy, but called on the UAE club’s supporters to make Saturday night as difficult as possible for final opponents Yokohama F Marinos.

The Adnoc Pro League side, the Emirates’ sole Asian champions, go into the second leg against their Japanese opponents needing to win at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium following a 2-1 defeat in Yokohama two weeks ago.

Al Ain are attempting to lift the continental crown for the first time since their celebrated 2003 success. This year represents their four Champions League final in all, with the Garden City club finishing runners-up in 2005 and 2016.

Speaking on Friday evening in front of a packed press conference at the club, Crespo said: “We believe. But we need to play 100 per cent because the opponent is a great opponent.

“And we need our fans. We need to live this final. We need it to be hot. Our idea is to try to fight and achieve this glory moment.

“We understand how important it is for the club. I don’t want to say it’s the most important game of Al Ain’s history, but it will be in the top three. And we have a great opportunity, a great responsibility, and we can do it. We can do it.”

Al Ain have enjoyed an impressive record at home in this season's Champions League. They have triumphed in all but one of their six matches at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, with notable wins in the previous two rounds against Saudi Arabian heavyweights Al Nassr and Al Hilal.

“Nothing changed about our approach for the game,” Crespo said. “We play at home; everybody knows how important it is for us to play at home. And we try to do our best just to come back and win the match, just to give us the opportunity to achieve this goal.

“We have only one result: we need to win. It depends on the difference; we [either] lift the trophy, or we go to penalties. But we need to win. We don’t have any other options.”

Crespo will be buoyed by having a fully fit squad to choose from. Full-back Erik, who scored the decisive goal in the 5-4 aggregate victory against record winners Hilal in the semi-final, missed the first leg in Yokohama with a foot injury.

Appointed in November, Crespo knows what it takes to compete in major finals. As a player, he lifted among other trophies the Copa Libertadores with River Plate and the Uefa Cup [Europa League] with Parma, while he was a runner-up in the 1996 Olympics, with Argentina, and the 2005 Uefa Champions League, with AC Milan.

In the latter, in which he scored twice as Milan raced to a 3-0 half-time lead, Crespo eventually lost out to a Liverpool side containing current Yokohama manager Harry Kewell.

“I’m very proud to be here because you help me chose the most important European cups,” the Argentine said. “The Europa League, I won, I scored one goal [in the final]; the [Uefa] Champions League, I lose, but I score two.

“Go to South America: Copa Libertadores, we won 2-0, I scored twice. South America, as a coach, we won 3-0 in the final [of the Copa Sudamerica, with Defensa y Justicia]. Olympic Games, I lost, I score one. Then I miss only the World Cup final.

“Now I’m very proud to be here and reach the final of the Asian Champions League. What will happen, I don’t know. But I know very well what we will be: competitive.

“And try to be yourself. Maybe sometimes it’s not enough, but we are competitive 100 per cent. Then I don’t think about anything else. I think about respecting the competition.”

Unlike Al Ain, Yokohama are participating in their first Champions League final. The five-time Japanese champions showed enough in the first leg to prove they have what it takes to defeat Al Ain, where they rebounded from Mohammed Abbas’ early strike to win through late goals from Asahi Uenaka and Kouta Watanabe.

Asked what was going to be key in Al Ain finally landing the trophy for a second time, Crespo said: “It’s impossible to take care about everything. It’s impossible to control everything. What can we control? Be ourselves. Try to defend our identity, to play football, to play at home, to be aggressive, try to attack.

“This is our idea. This how we want to play. After that, it’s football. We know nobody [handed] them the opportunity like this; to arrive here means they are a strong team, and they have a lot of qualities.

“And if someone does not understand that we can suffer sometimes, we are in the wrong way. During the game, we try to push them to make mistakes and try to defend our idea, the way that we want to play.

“After that, anything can happen. It can happen that we suffered a little bit because we have a great opponent. But we try to do our best to reach our goal.”

Sitting alongside Crespo, Al Ain full-back Bandar Al Ahbabi said: "Every Emirati is proud of us playing in the Champions League final and for this great achievement. Hopefully we will achieve the win and make our fans and every Emirati happy.

“We are behind one goal but in football you can come back any time. We have 90 minutes. This is a decisive and exceptional match - sacrifice is required, fight is required, and the players know this. We are stronger at home, and we are optimistic.”

On using the 2016 defeat as motivation on Saturday, Al Ahbabi added: “We talked among the players, and I communicated that feeling to my teammates. In football you need to be ambitious, be alive to the win or the title. Otherwise, if you are not that ambitious, you will break and be beaten.

“We are almost in the same atmosphere. We are ready; we are prepared. My colleagues and I we have one goal: to win the title and bring happiness and joy to every Emirati and to our homeland, where everyone is supporting us and waiting on our win.

“We are focusing on this match, and we will do our best to win.”

Updated: May 25, 2024, 7:39 AM