By Sports Reporter/Doha
Al Duhail will look to get back to winning ways when they take on UAE’s Al Ain in the AFC Champions League Group C at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium today. The match will start at 6.30pm.
Al Duhail started their 2019 campaign with a 3-0 win over Esteghlal, but lost their second match away at Al Hilal 3-1. They will be boosted by the return of 2019 AFC Asian Cup MVP and top scorer Almoez Ali, who had missed the first two games through injury.
The contest between Duhail and Al Ain will be a repeat of last year’s last 16 clash. Duhail had overpowered Al Ain over the two legs 11 months ago, recording an aggregate 8-3 victory, with the second leg in Doha ending 4-1.
Both sides have since changed managers; Al Duhail swapped Djamel Belmadi for Nabil Maaloul who led them to the semi-finals last year, before making way for Rui Faria, who took over earlier this season. Al Ain, on the other side, lost Zoran Mamic who joined Al Hilal and was replaced by Juan Carlos Garrido.
Al Ain have struggled since hitting the highs of 2018 FIFA Club World Cup final, finding themselves in third spot on the UAE Pro League table. They are yet to win in the continental tournament, having suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Al Hilal followed by a 1-1 draw against Esteghlal.
Duhail coach Faria stressed on the importance of today’s match and the need for his team to top the group. “We know that we will face a strong team but we have prepared well for this match and are hopeful of putting up a strong show,” he said.
Having conceded the Qatar Stars League title to Al Sadd, the focus for Duhail is to win the Champions League and the Amir Cup. But they are not in the best of form as they lost to Al Kharaitiyat 0-1 last week.
“Our loss in the league will not affect our performance in this match,” said Faria.
“We must learn from the mistakes and improve our performance. The team is different from last season. I am not a magician to do miracles in a short time. The team lost the league. This is true. Our last game against Kharaitiyat is not the true reflection of the team.
“There are new players in the team who need time to settle in,” the Portuguese manager added.
Meanwhile, captain Karim Boudiaf was confident Duhail would overcome Al Ain. “The team is ready for this match and we know that the task will not be easy and all our matches in this group will not be easy. But we have a strong desire to win at home,” the defensive midfielder said.
“There is a difference between the league and the AFC Champions League. I think that the loss of the league will not affect us in this tournament. Now the task is different and the tournament is different,” he added.
In another Group C match, Al Hilal will look to extend their winning run to three games when they face Iran’s Esteghlal. The Saudi team are one of just two sides who have collected two points in the competition, alongside South Korea’s Daegu FC.
Coach Zoran Mamic’s men are eyeing a first continental title, having reached the final in 2014 and 2017. They started in a perfect manner, defeating Al Ain 1-0 and Al Duhail 3-1. Esteghlal, on the other side, have not been in good form under coach Winfriend Schäfer this season. They dropped to fourth in the Iranian Pro League table and are bottom of their group with just one point.
The two giants of Asian football have met on five occasions in the competition, with Esteghlal winning three times, and Al Hilal winning on two occasions. Their most recent encounter last year ended with a 1-0 Iranian victory in Kuwait City.
Meanwhile, QNB Stars League champions Al Sadd focus will now turn their focus to the AFC Champions League when they resume their Group D campaign against Uzbekistan’s Pahkator tomorrow in Tashkent.
The 2018 semi-finalists are currently third in the standings, having opened their campaign with a 2-0 defeat against Al Ahli Saudi before beating Persepolis of Iran 1-0 on Matchday Two.
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