Asian Champions League Groups
Zoran Mamic says his Al Ain side are focused only on finishing top of their Asian Champions League group and not on a potential last-16 clash with domestic rivals Al Ahli.
The Garden City club, beaten finalists last year, take on Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Monday in their final Group C match having already qualified for the knockout stages.
Al Ain currently sit at the summit, meaning victory against Bunyodkor would ensure they advance as group winners. They will then have to wait 24 hours to discover who they face in the last 16, with UAE counterparts Ahli hosting Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv in Dubai to decide if they top Group A or finish second.
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Should Ahli take first place, too, then they will avoid Al Ain and instead play the runner-up in Group C.
However, despite the possibility of a repeat of the 2015 last-16 tie, which Ahli won on the away-goal rule, Mamic insists he is looking only at Al Ain concluding their campaign with another win.
"What is good is that we already passed through the group, but of course we want to finish in the best possible way and we want to take three points, " Mamic said. "We know Bunyodkor are a good team - they won the last match against [Saudi side] Al Ahli and we have to be on a good level to take the three points.
"We don’t want to think what happens in the other group. They play one day later and we want only to concentrate on our game and think about us. It’s not important who will come in the next round."
Asked which club he would prefer in the last 16, Mamic joked: "The team that will be beaten by us."
"In the other group many things can happen, " he added. "We’ll do what we have to do and then the other teams can calculate. It’s better that they think about us than we think about them."
For Monday’s match, Mamic will be without midfielder Ahmed Barman and defensive lynchpin Ismail Ahmed, both of whom are suspended, while UAE international Amer Barman remains out through injury. Defender Mohanad Salem is expected to come back into the starting line-up, though, after he missed Wednesday’s Arabian Gulf League victory against Sharjah.
Irrespective of who plays, Al Ain will be confident of getting the points against Bunyodkor. The 2003 Asian champions – still the only UAE team to lift the title – defeated the Uzbeks 3-2 in Tashkent in February, while Bunyodkor’s victory against Jeddah’s Ahli last month arrested a run of 18 Champions League fixtures without a win. Also, the capital club dismissed manager Sergey Lushan last week with the side 11th in the Uzbek top flight.
Nevertheless, Al Ain will have to improve their home form if they want to dispatch Bunyodkor. Thus far this campaign, they have drawn both Champions League matches at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, although Mamic said he is not too concerned with that return.
"Against Zobahan and Ahli we made two great matches and played good football - something like this can happen always, " he said. "I don’t think we are better at home or away, because our best two games in the group were at home.
"In this game it doesn’t mean you play good and you win. Sometimes you play bad and you win. This is football."