Al Ahli head coach Cosmin Olaroiu addresses the media ahead of the Asian Champions League final first leg. Ali Haider / EPA
Al Ahli head coach Cosmin Olaroiu addresses the media ahead of the Asian Champions League final first leg. Ali Haider / EPA

Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu backs ‘my Spartans’ to write history in Asian Champions League final



DUBAI // Cosmin Olaroiu has called for one more Herculean effort from his Al Ahli team in the first leg of their Asian Champions league final against Guangzhou Evergrande on Saturday night.

The UAE side, only the second Emirati club to contest the continental showpiece, face the 2013 champions at the Rashid Stadium knowing a positive result is required ahead of the return fixture in China on November 21.

Ahli’s improbable run to the final has provided a source of optimism for the Dubai club as they seek to cause an upset. This year marked the first time the six-time UAE champions have qualified for the knockout stages, with their progression sealed in the final few minutes of their Group D campaign.

Ahli then booked their place in the final courtesy of last month’s last-gasp, 4-3 aggregate victory against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.

Buoyed by their perseverance, Olaroiu has urged his players to once again give their all against Guangzhou, especially since they take on a team he describes as comparable to any in Europe.

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“Like everyone, when you arrive in the final of this kind of competition you can be only proud,” he said. “It creates a lot of emotion, a lot of positive energies, a lot of motivation. I hope we can do much more in this.

“I hope tomorrow my fighters, my Spartans, will write another page of history and they will play again with the spirit of this country. We’re not big in number, but we have big hearts. I hope tomorrow they will do it again.”

Guangzhou represent a formidable obstacle, though, given they were officially crowned Asia’s best side as recently as two years ago. The current crop are in fine form, too, with the club securing a fifth successive Chinese Super League title only last weekend.

Managed by World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guangzhou are one of the continent’s biggest spenders, and boast in their squad talented Brazilians in Ricardo Goulart, Elkeson and Paulinho.

“We’re going to face a very strong team, who in my opinion can compete against any club in Europe,” Olaroiu said. “A team that’s very balanced, powerful, who won their domestic competition five times in a row. That says many things about them.

“Now we are preparing the game, we’re trying to do it in the best way possible. We know it will be very difficult, but we have a chance and we try to get the maximum we can from this game.”

Olaroiu added that keeping a clean sheet constitutes one of Ahli’s main objectives, given how significant away goals can be at this stage of the tournament.

“It’s important to win, important take a step in front for the second game,” the Romanian said. “But we have to do it in the clever way — we have to be very organised and very intelligent in the way we play.

“We respect them, they are strong, but like all teams, nobody is perfect. They also weak have points and we hope that tomorrow you’re going to see them. We have to find a way to put them in trouble.”

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