Zoran Mamic has vowed that his Al Ain players will represent their club and the UAE at the Fifa Club World Cup in the “best possible way” as the hosts prepare for the opening match.
The Arabian Gulf League champions meet Team Wellington of New Zealand at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday with Real Madrid, River Plate, Guadalajara, Esperance de Tunis and Kashima Antlers making up the rest of the teams appearing in Abu Dhabi.
“We are happy that we are participating in the tournament and have waited for this game with a lot of motivation,” Mamic told reporters on Monday.
“We have a team that I think can win the first game but we have to respect our opponents. There is more quality in my team and we have to prove that on the pitch.”
Al Ain come into the match on the back of fine domestic form that has them level on points with league leaders Sharjah, although they suffered a heavy loss to Al Wasl in their most recent encounter in the President's Cup on Friday.
“This tournament is different and we have to forget what happened in the past,” Mamic said.
“We have to concentrate on the next match and this game is against Wellington and our focus on this game. Wellington play an offensive game and that’s bad for me. They have good strikers and midfielders.”
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Al Ain are making their tournament bow against the Oceania champions. No tournament was held the year Al Ain won the Asian Champions League in 2003.
Mamic said his side felt no pressure, adding that playing the best teams from around the world was a "bonus" and one that his players should embrace.
“I want them to enjoy the tournament and play without any pressure because we know the calibre of teams playing in this tournament," he said. "You will maybe get a once in a lifetime chance to be a part of this tournament, that’s why I want my players to do their best and enjoy.”
Mamic has injury concerns over midfielders Amer Abdulrahman and Rayan Yaslam while Portuguese attacker Ruben Ribeiro failed to receive international clearance in time to face the Oceania Champions League winners.
Malian midfielder Tongo Doumbia, who joined on a two-year deal in October, is included in the squad.
“Doumbia is in good shape, but training is one thing and the match is another, he will be participating in this game, how much we will see,” Mamic said.
“I know him from before; he is very good player and I’m sure he can help the team.”
The winner of Wednesday's play-off will advance to face African champions Esperance on Saturday with a potential semi-final against South American champions River Plate further down the line.
Ismail Ahmed, the Al Ain captain, said the players were not looking beyond the Wellington match and called on all UAE football fans to turn out in support of the host club.
“It’s something very special for us as players,” said the centre-back. “Our objective to win the first game against Team Wellington. This is the most important game for us.
“Al Ain fans are the best in the country but we urge all football fans in the country to rally behind us in this game.
"We have watched UAE clubs previously play in the Club World Cup. It's our turn now and we want to be right up there with the best and present our loyal fans something they would remember for a long time."
Teammate Mohammed Fayez echoed his captain's sentiments. “This game is not about Al Ain but the UAE, and we want to make our country proud in front of a world audience,” he said.