Al-Ahli relishing challenge of Guangzhou bear pit

Emiratis Al-Ahli are relishing the prospect of playing the second leg of the Asian Champions League final in front of a hostile 50,000 capacity crowd in China on Saturday, coach Cosmin Olaroiu said.


The Romanian’s side will face five-times defending Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande with the final evenly poised at 0-0 but in a stadium almost universally behind the 2013 ACL winners.

Olaroiu, whose side played out a dour goalless draw with Guangzhou in Dubai a fortnight ago, said their experiences competing in some of West Asia’s most intimidating venues earlier in the campaign would stand them in good stead.

“We have played in Iran and in Riyadh against Al-Hilal (in the semi-final) where we had a full stadium with a lot of pressure, so I hope the players will enjoy playing in a full stadium and the supporters of Guangzhou will not affect them,” he said on Thursday.

“It is a pleasure and it does not happen every time, and that is why we have to enjoy it. I am sure they will not be afraid and they will play a good game.”

Guangzhou will go into Saturday’s second leg favourites to win the trophy and book a place at the FIFA Club World Cup next month in Japan but Al-Ahli only need a score draw at Tianhe Stadium to lift Asian’s biggest club title for the first time.

Olariou, who led Al-Ahli to the UAE title in 2014 and also won club trophies in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, defended his side’s dour first leg tactics and said they would attack more in China.

“Our strategy was not just to not concede goals in the first leg, it was one of the points we were looking for, but when you play you want to win and take an advantage,” the former Saudi Arabia coach said.

“Unfortunately we didn’t score but at least we hit one of the targets which was to not concede a goal. Now we know to win the trophy we have to score, and this will be our main target in this game.”

Al-Ahli will be forced to make at least one change to their side for the second leg after right fullback Abdulaziz Haikal was sent off in Dubai a fortnight ago.

The rest of their squad has come through the international break unscathed as they bid to become the first Emirati winners since another of Olariou’s former clubs, Al-Ain, won the 2003 tournament in the first year following a revamp.