RIYADH: United Arab Emirates outfit Al Ain and Qatar’s Al Sadd are hoping it will be third time lucky for them against Saudi opponents in the first legs of their Asian Champions League quarter-finals tomorrow.
Al Ain will host Al Ittihad who they finished above in group play of Asia’s premier club competition despite losing to them 2-1 in Mecca and then only managing a 1-1 draw at home in their final match of the pool.
Saudi striker Mukhtar Fallatah scored both goals in the March win for the twice former champions and Al Ain’s Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic was wary of a repeat performance from the 26-year-old, who has six in this season’s competition.
“I expect them to be hard matches. Al Ittihad have a very young, fast and dangerous team,” Dalic, whose first match in charge was the March defeat, warned.
“Their key players are Fahad Al Muwallad and Mukhtar Fallatah,” who both scored twice in the 4-1 aggregate win over fellow Saudis Al Shabbab in the last 16.”
Fallatah’s goalscoring feats are bettered by Al Ain’s Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan, who has struck 10 times in their eight matches so far as the Abu Dhabi club has made it through to the last eight for the first time since 2006.
Gyan scored three times in the last 16 as they knocked out compatriots Al Jazira 4-2 on aggregate with talented playmaker Omar Abdulrahman adding the other goal. The Arabian Gulf League side will need the duo on form if they are to take a lead to Saudi Arabia for next week’s second leg.
The other west Asian quarter-final sees Saudi league leaders Al Hilal, who ended Uzbek interest in the last round by easily beating Bunyodkor, hosting Qatar’s Al Sadd in Riyadh hoping for a repeat of the 5-0 thrashing they handed out in group play.
That lopsided defeat for the 2011 winners followed a 2-2 draw in Doha with the Qatari club’s head coach Hussain Ammouta optimistic they could close the gap after edging Iranians Foolad in the last 16 on away goals.
“I was very confident that in the second meeting we could beat Al Hilal, but in football when you concede a goal in the first minute and two more goals shortly after, then you know that this is not your day,” Ammouta said.
“We were very disappointed, of course, but we had to go forward and work hard, especially on our tactical and mental sides.“I expect this important quarter-final between Al Sadd and Al Hilal to certainly be an interesting game. We respect them, but I believe that we have the qualities within our side to beat them.”