Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira, having cemented their place in the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League, are keen to beat Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli at home and finish at the top of the standings in Group A. The action starts on Tuesday at Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium from 6.30pm.
Al Ahli lead the standings with 11 points and just need to ensure that they avoid defeat against Jazira, who are placed second with nine points, to win Group A.
Al Jazira had lost 2-1 at Al Ahli when the sides met in Jeddah and coach Henk Ten Cate wants to set that record straight.
“It is interesting because normally when two teams have qualified, it will be a game for nothing but here it is for the top spot and that will be an advantage,” he said.
“I would say prestige is at stake because the first game in Jeddah we did not deserve to lose. We had them with the back against the wall. We were unlucky with the chances. Winning also gives self-confidence and so we want to win.”
Ten Cate added that he will be watching the other group matches also very closely to get a measure of those teams qualifying in the first and second place. Al Jazira booked their place for the knockout phase with a dramatic 3-2 win against Qatar’s Al Gharafa last time out. Ali Mabkhout’s two goals — including the 94th-minute winner — in the victory at Al Gharafa, has taken the striker’s tally to four in the tournament and he will be keen to continue in the same vein.
The only worry for Al Jazira, going into the clash, is the absence of goalkeeper Ali Khaseif. He will miss the game after picking up his second yellow card of the group stage against Al Gharafa.
Al Jazira come into the contest after exiting the President’s Cup last week with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Al Wahda.
“Losing the President’s Cup was a disappointment especially because we were better in the game. Yesterday, I received the stats from the game and it was incredible if you see the number of chances we had and the possession rate. Unfortunately, at the end of the game it is goals that matter, which they did. But I was happy with my team’s show,” said ten Cate adding that Al Ahli is a decent team with good structure, discipline and physical power.
The biggest plus for visitors Al Ahli going into the clash is they have been unbeaten — home or away — during an AFC Champions League group stage which has seen them reap 11 points from a possible 15.
Al Ahli’s Ukrainian coach Sergei Rebrov said: “We just finished our league and now our focus is on the Champions League. For me, it is a very interesting and important competition. Now we are on the first place and this game tomorrow, we will try to hold on to our place and go to the playoff from first place.”
Rebrov went on to add that his players might be not very motivated, given the fact that they have already qualified.
“I hope my players understand the importance of the game and are preparing for the game seriously. The message has already been passed on to the players. It is always better to play a team that has finished second in the other group. We are ready to play any team but avoiding the top team from the other group should be your priority,” revealed Rebrov, whose team completed their 2018 Saudi Pro League campaign with a 1-0 win over Ohud Club last week and finished second behind title winners Al Hilal.
On Tuesday, Al Wahda, who has already been knocked out of the tournament, will be playing for pride in their last Group B fixture away to leaders Al Duhail. With five successive victories already, the Qatar Stars League champions will become only the fourth side in the history of the competition to win all six of their group stage matches should they defeat Al Wahda.
Al Duhail v Al Wahda, 6pm
Lokomotiv v Zob Ahan, 6pm
Al Jazira v Al Ahli, 6.30pm