'It's Our Fans, Our Stadium': Al Ain FC Dream Of Champions League Glory

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Thu 23 May 2024, 6:37 PM

Khalid Al Hashemi was barely six years old when Al Ain won their first and only Asian Champions League trophy in 2003.

Now fast-forward to 2024 and Al Hashemi is no longer an ordinary football fan. The Emirati is on first-name terms with 'the beautiful game', having built a career as a resolute defender who could even withstand attacks from marquee names like Cristiano Ronaldo.

The UAE footballer with 14 caps at the international level is now itching to get back to Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday to defend the colours of Al Ain FC.

It's the biggest game of football for Al Ain in years. Trailing Yokohama F. Marinos 2-1 in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final, Al Ain are hoping to put up a stirring fightback against the Japanese club in the second leg on Saturday as they look to end their two-decade-long wait for continental glory.

For that to happen, Al Hashemi and his teammates in the heart of defence need to thwart every Japanese move and their strikers must convert their chances in the rival box.

The 14-time UAE champions have done that in style against Ronaldo's Al Nassr in the quarterfinals before they put the mighty Al Hilal to the sword in the semis with Al Hashemi playing a key role in both ties.

Now the 27-year-old hopes those results will inspire his team to overcome the final hurdle on home turf and lift the coveted trophy.

But the team will also need a big push from their famous 12th man -fans.

Fortunately, that would not be in short supply for a club whose home matches even draw fans from neighbouring countries like Oman.

“I'm pretty sure the fans will fire up the stadium for the 90 minutes, I hope so,” Al Hashemi told afc.

Al Ain's Emirati defender Khalid Al Hashemi (centre right) jumps to clear the ball for a corner kick during the AFC Champions League final first leg against Yokohama F. Marinos in Yokohama on May 11. - AFP

“What I want from them is they fire up for the whole game, from minute one until the last second.

“I believe the fans will play a big role in that game. Always believe in football. There are some details we need to be better in, we players know this. We will work on it and I'm sure in the second leg we'll do well.

“Before any game, we play we know we have the Al Ain crest on our chests, we represent ourselves and we represent our country in this tournament. We are pretty confident about ourselves and I hope the confidence we have in ourselves will help us as well.”

Since their 2003 triumph, Al Ain came tantalisingly close to winning the title again in 2005 and 2016, but they failed to deliver the knockout blows in both finals.

“That's why everybody wants this trophy so bad and I hope from the bottom of my heart that we can give happiness to everybody in our country,” the defender said.

The fleet-footed Japanese team throws a very different challenge compared to what Al Ain encountered against regional rivals Al Nassr and Al Hilal.

It was a challenge the UAE club dealt with pretty well in the first leg, which they were leading 1-0 until the 71st minute after an early goal from Mohammed Al Baloushi (12th minute).

But two late goals Asahi Uenaka (72nd minute) and Kota Watanabe (84th minute) turned the first leg decisively in Yokohama's favour.

Al Hashemi says Al Ain have done their homework for the second leg as each member of the team is now prepared to take on the Japanese giants.

“It's different schools and from what I've seen tactically they are very good. What we faced against Al Nassr and Al Hilal, their centre-backs are not really good footballers but this team has really good footballers, especially at the back,” he said.

“We need to be careful of this, we need to stick tight with them, body to body because I know physically they're not really good when you get tight with them and fight for the ball. We need to work on that."

Al Ain, Al Hashemi says, will also need to be careful against a team who are likely to sit back and defend their lead from the first leg and then launch quick counter-attacks.

“(In the second leg) I think the other team will defend, so we will attack. We need to concentrate on the counterattacks and the second balls, their strikers are really good, they're from Brazil and we know them already,” he said.

“We have to be aware of that and also the set-pieces. I think they'll play using set-pieces and counterattacks,” he added before reminding everyone why the home support would be crucial in crunch moments.

“They have the lead now, they're one up, but it's our stadium, our fans. We will attack.”

Asian Champions League final

Second leg


Al Ain vs Yokohama F. Marinos

Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain

8 pm UAE Time

Yokohama F. Marinos won the first leg 2-1 in Japan on May 11


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