As soon as Ahmed Al Mazroui saw an Al Hilal supporters’ banner when he touched down at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, he knew they would be drawn as Al Ain’s opponents in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League.
And so it transpired yesterday at around 12:00 UAE time as the Boss and the Crescent were the first two names pulled out of the hat in Malaysia.
Two of the biggest clubs in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the pitting of the two teams against each other will evoke memories of their 2014 ACL semi-final clash and a 3-0 drubbing handed out to Al Ain by Hilal in front of a raucous 57,000 King Fahd International Stadium that took the tie away from them.
The two giants of Gulf football will clash at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on August 21 with the second leg in Riyadh taking place two weeks later on September 11.
Al Mazroui, vice chairman of Al Ain’s board of directors, flew to the Far East as the club’s representative at the ACL last eight draw and claimed he was not surprised to be paired with Hilal, who overcame Esteghlal Khuzestan 4-2 on aggregate in the last 16 after topping Group D.
“I certainly expected us to be drawn against Al Hilal,” said Al Mazroui.
“Personally I expected to face Hilal since the moment I arrived at the Kuala Lumpur airport, when I saw a Hilal banner.”
Al Mazroui also expressed pride at the club reaching the last eight for the third time in four seasons.
“The team wants to compete for the Champions League title and have had a hard number of games on the continent which has driven us to achieve the best results and got us here,” he added.
“We have been challengers for the continental title in the last three seasons. We have potential and a strong desire to restore the continental title to our beloved country to repeat the Asian achievement we achieved in 2003.
“I think that the chances of all the teams that qualified for the quarter-finals are equal and everyone here deserves to be so.”
The two teams have clashed four times in total in the competition, in 2014 and a year earlier, with two wins apiece.
And Hilal team manager Faisal Al Farshan hopes the two-legged tie will be befitting of the rivalry between the sides.
“We are looking forward to make a match worthy of the name of the reputation of the two clubs,” he said.
“The performance of the two teams this season have won praise and appreciation off everyone.”
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