AL AIN // Zlatko Dalic has complained about the lack of time he has had to prepare his full Al Ain squad for Tuesday night’s Asian Champions League quarter-final first leg against Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv.
The Al Ain manager has been training with his core players since only August 13, when the club’s UAE internationals joined following their own preparations for next month’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Seven players, including the majority of Al Ain’s first-choice defence and the two Abdulrahmans, playmaker Omar and new signing Amer, spent the previous month with the national team at a camp in Spain.
In contrast, Lokomotiv currently lead the Uzbek top flight by five points after 19 rounds and remain unbeaten. The match represents Al Ain’s first competitive fixture since the President’s Cup final on May 29.
Speaking on Monday before the two sides meet at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Dalic said: “You expect me to talk about how happy I am with our preparations, but I’m not happy.
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“I’m not satisfied, because I spent just 10 days with my players. That’s not enough to do a serious job. Not enough to prepare a team for a big game like the Asian Champions League. Other coaches look for two months.
“Ten days is not enough to update your computer, so how do you prepare a team for a Champions League game? But I’m always an optimist. I believe in my players, that they can do a great job in the first leg. Our target is win this game and don’t concede a goal.”
Dalic was under similar circumstances in 2014, when Al Ain’s UAE internationals arrived back from a national team camp shortly before their Champions League semi-final first leg with Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
Al Ain, Asian champions in 2003 and the only Emirati club to lift the trophy, lost the match at Riyadh 3-0. They were eventually eliminated 4-2 on aggregate.
“I had a very bad experience two years ago that I shall not repeat,” Dalic said. “Again, my players went to the national team for 20 days, then came back two days before our game and we lost 3-0. Because of this experience, one month ago I said ‘please, give me my players. I respect the national team, but give support to Al Ain’. Of course, the national team is No 1, but they have six games in the group stage. We have just two.
“It’s our game first, then the national team. Because of my bad experience, I tried and I tried, but nothing.
“Nobody asked the national team why Al Ain didn’t qualify, everybody asked me about my planning. But OK, we’ll take it and play our best.”
Dalic urged his players to forget about their inadequate preparations and concentrate on reaching the semi-finals, where they could potentially face Dubai’s Al Nasr.
The second leg with Lokomotiv, a club never before contesting the knockout stages, takes place at Tashkent on September 13.
“I don’t want to find any excuse, but it’s true we are not at a high level,” Dalic said. “My feeling is that we did a good job the past 10 days. Tomorrow we will play a good game and from our side it will be a very serious game.
“We must take care about the other team because they have very experienced players. But my players and I have big experience in the Champions League and always do a good job.
“We will do that because it’s an open path to the final.
“It will be a tough game, but we can realise our ambitions.”
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