Asian Champions League Table
■ Al Ahli v Al Ain, Asian Champions League Round 3: Monday at 9.30pm UAE time
Ahmed Barman says Al Ain must beware a highly motivated Al Ahli in Monday’s Asian Champions League encounter in Jeddah, as the Saudi Arabian champions look to make up for the likely relinquishing of their domestic crown.
Ahli, who last season won a first Saudi Pro League title in 32 years, are set to surrender the trophy this year, sitting second in the table, nine points behind heavyweights Al Hilal with five rounds remaining.
However, Christian Gross’s side are slightly better off in the Champions League, currently topping Group C after recording two wins from their opening two matches. Al Ain, runners-up in Asia last year but currently fourth in the Arabian Gulf League, are Ahli’s closest competitors, having taken four points thus far.
Yet, with Ahli in good form in the competition and boasting in their ranks prolific striker Omar Al Soma, Al Ain understand they have a tough task at King Abdullah Sports City if they are to maintain their unbeaten start to this campaign.
"We are playing against one of the strongest clubs in Saudi Arabia and are well aware our job will not be easy, especially since Al Ahli has lost the chance to retain their league title, " said Barman, the Al Ain midfielder. "Their main goal now this season is to have a strong showing in the Champions League.
"But with all due respect to their aspirations, we came to Jeddah with a clear objective: deliver a strong performance that enables us to go back home with a good result. We are aware Ahli have great quality in various positions, but Al Ain has also some of the best talent on the continent, coupled with a great desire to get a good result worthy of the club’s name and the reputation of UAE football."
Al Ain manager Zoran Mamic will seek to use his knowledge of the Saudi league to guide his side to a positive result. The Croat, who replaced compatriot Zlatko Dalic last month, managed Riyadh club Al Nassr before his move to the UAE.
"Certainly, my past experience at Al Nassr has helped me to get to know Al Ahli well, " Mamic said. "This will give me the advantage of being able to analyse their tactics closely. However, this tournament is quite different from the Saudi league and Al Ahli’s current position is similar to that of Al Ain’s after coming out of the race for their domestic competition. The objective is clear: to compete for the Champions League title."
Al Ain, still the only Emirati side to win the Champions League, in 2003, will take heart from the fact they defeated Ahli twice in the group stages last year.