DUBAI // With the Al Ahli fans deserting their team, their AFC Champions League opponents, Mes Kerman, could expect to have the greater number of supporters at the Sheikh Rashid Stadium tonight. Fans flocked to the stadium as Ahli won the Pro League title last season, but the stands have had a deserted look during this campaign with the team struggling to match their performances of old.
They are in eighth place in the domestic league and have one point from four group games in Asia. The last time they played a Champions League match at home, fans of Al Hilal, the Saudi Arabian side, outnumbered Ahli supporters and Abdulmajeed Hussein, the first-team director, fears similar scenes tonight with enthusiastic Iranians flocking to the stadium. "Mes Kerman could have more popular support," he said rue- fully. "We saw that in the last match, there were more Hilal supporters than Ahli fans.
"We understand that the results of our team have not been good this season, but I don't think poor results have anything to do with poor attendance. It is just a case of attitude. "Mes Kerman are battling to avoid relegation in the Iranian league, but their stadium was full during the previous game. We played there too and the stands were virtually full. "Still, I am hoping our fans will come out to support the team and help the players achieve a good result."
On the pitch, there is better news for Ahli. Bare, the striker, is back after a long lay-off and Faisal Khalil has been looking sharp after missing a large part of the season with injuries. Their return gives Hussein the confidence his team could still sneak into the second round. Ahli need to win this game and the next, at Al Sadd in Qatar, and hope Hilal win both their remaining matches as well.
Hilal are top of the group with 10 points while Sadd and Mes Kerman have six each. If Ahli win both their games and Hilal can do the same, the Dubai club will go through as the second team with seven points. "Our goal will be to get six points from the next two games," said Hussein. "That is our only chance. And then we can hope for some favours from Hilal." firstname.lastname@example.org