Zlatko Dalic expects a ‘better prepared’ Al Ain for the Asian Champions League semi-finals
Al Ain manager Zlatko Dalic believes his team will be much improved for the Asian Champions League semi-finals after a 1-0 win over Uzbek club Lokomotiv on Tuesday night at the Bunyodkor stadium secured progression.
Brazilian winger Caio, signed in the summer from Japanese club Kashima Antlers, scored the only goal of the tie to send Al Ain through to the last four.
The win is all the more impressive considering Al Ain’s lack of preparation. Their first match of the season was the Champions League quarter-final first leg on August 23, of which preparation was limited due to the commitment of the club’s UAE international players attempting to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Since that goalless draw, Al Ain have played just two Arabian Gulf Cup games, featuring understrength line-ups, while their domestic league season does not start until Sunday.
In comparison, Lokomotiv are 20 games into the Uzbekistan league season where they remain undefeated and lead the standings by five points. They also went undefeated in a Champions League group that included two-time champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.
“We were not in a good situation coming to this game,” said Dalic, whose side travelled to Tashkent after a 5-1 thrashing from Al Ahli in their second Arabian Gulf Cup match.
“Our domestic season has just begun and we didn’t have all the key players as they were on national duty, but I hope the team will be better prepared in the semi-finals.”
Despite the contrasts in preparation, Al Ain were worthy of their victory and are now just one round away from their third Champions League final following their 2003 triumph and 2005 defeat to Al Ittihad.
“Our preparation for the continental championship was severely hampered as the players on national duties returned only two days before we travelled to Tashkent,” Dailc said.
“Hence, I want to congratulate my team for this victory. We played fantastic in this game. Lokomotiv played very well, but we were stronger than our opponent.
“Our tactical style gave us this victory and sometimes we were lucky. I have never lost in Uzbekistan and I am happy to continue this tradition.”
Al Ain next play either fellow Arabian Gulf League side Al Nasr or Qatar’s El Jaish for a place in the final. Al Nasr had won the first leg in Doha 3-0, but the result was overturned and a 3-0 victory awarded to El Jaish by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Monday after it found Nasr striker Wanderley guilty of using a “false” Indonesian passport.
The second leg between Nasr and El Jaish takes place at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Wednesday at 8.45pm local time.
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Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM