By Sports Reporter/Doha
Al Rayyan players celebrate a goal during their Qatar Stars League match against Al Ahli in Doha last week.
Al Rayyan coach Michael Laudrup has challenged his players to seize their chance to make history when they take on UAE giants Al Ain in their last AFC Champions League Group D game at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium today. The match begins at 6.45pm.
With Iran’s Esthelglal already confirmed for the last 16 knockout phase of the lucrative event with nine points and a match in hand, the Al Rayyan-Al Ain clash will decide the second team from the group to make the cut, leaving either with little scope for error.
The Emiratis, however are slightly better off with seven points from five matches so far and need only a draw, while Al Rayyan, who have just six points, will need three points to become the third team from Qatar – after Al Duhail and Al Sadd – to secure their spot in the round of 16 this season.
The hosts go into the game on the back of a 4-1 victory over Al Ahli in the Qatar Stars League last week, and Laudrup was oozing confidence at his press conference yesterday.
“We are fully prepared for the match against Al Ain. It is the last game for us in the group and we are ready to show we are among the top 16 teams in Asia,” the Dane said.
“A win today will mean a lot to us as it will take Al Rayyan to the knockouts for the first time in history. We have only one chance to do that. I am confident the players will be at their best tomorrow. They know they are capable of beating any side on their day.”
The coach however added that Al Ain, too, are no pushovers.
“We respect Al Ain. They have players of a high calibre such as Omar Abdulrahman and Brazilian Caio among others but we are ready for a tough match.”
Star Al Rayyan striker Sebastian Soria also exuded confidence, saying he welcomed the additional pressure on him due to the injury of Abdelrazzaq Hamdallah.
“I relish such a situation. In the absence of Hamdallah I’ll be required to do most of the attacking duties. Although we will miss Hamdallah I am confident I can deliver what is need for the team,” said the Uruguay-born Soria.
Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic said his time will try to exploit the absence of Hamdalla in the Al Rayyan squad
“Hamdallah’s absence will surely hurt Al Rayyan. We are sorry for his injury and I wish him a speedy recovery but when a key rival player is injured, it definitely helps the other team,” said Mamic.
“We always play attacking football. That’s our style. Last year we lost in the quarter-finals but this year we aim to progress farther. This is one of the toughest groups of the tournament. It’s not surprising qualification has gone down to the wire.”
Meanwhile, Al Hilal take on Esteghlal at Kuwait Sports Club Stadium in another Group D match.
Esteghlal are already assured of a place in the next round having beaten Al Rayyan 2-0 in early April, but the Iranian side must avoid defeat to win the group.
The two-time continental champions, who are without suspended duo Roozneh Cheshmi and Omid Ebrahimi, warmed up for the game with a 1-1 draw against Gostaresh Foolad Tabriz last week.
Runners-up last year, Al Hilal’s form has dropped dramatically this time round and their 2-1 defeat in Al Ain on Matchday Five confirmed their early elimination.
The Saudi side go into the game on a high, though, after a 4-1 win over Al Fateh secured the Saudi Pro League title on Thursday. Ali al- Bulayhi misses the game through suspension.
Al Sadd clash with Persepolis today
Persepolis can finish as table-toppers in Group C of the 2018 AFC Champions League if they overcome Al Sadd at the Azadi Stadium here today.
The Iranian side have won both of their home games and secured their place in the next round following a scoreless draw away at Nasaf two weeks ago.
Al Sadd currently occupy first position and two more goals from striker Baghdad Bounedjah in a 2-1 victory over Al Wasl in early April confirmed a place in the last 16.
The hosts, who are without the suspended Shojae Khalilzadeh, drew 1-1 with Pars Jam Bushehr on Wednesday although they have already been crowned Iranian champions.
The visitors’ last Qatar Stars League game was a 9-1 victory over Al Kharaitiyat just over a week ago as they brought a poor recent domestic run to an end. They will be without the suspended Abdelkarim Hassan.
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