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AFC Champions League

Asked players to trust themselves and translate what we did in training, says Al Ain boss Hernan Crespo

Published at :May 26, 2024 at 5:28 PM
Modified at :May 26, 2024 at 5:28 PM
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(Courtesy : AFC Media)

Khel Now

Hernan Crespo stressed that Al Ain deserved the AFC Champions League title.

His players gatecrashed the post-match press conference to honour him but as far as Hernan Crespo was concerned, Saturday’s AFC Champions League 2023/24 triumph was the result of a collective effort.

The side from the United Arab Emirates were simply unstoppable as Crespo’s players did exactly what he had promised they would – turn the pressure on in front of their adoring fans.

The end result was an emphatic 5-1 win at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, with Al Ain triumphing 6-3 on aggregate to lift the trophy for a second time after having waited for 21 years.

Crespo, understandably, struggled to keep his emotions in check.

“It is very difficult to describe. We are very proud with this title because we represented not only the club but also the country.

“We deserve the title. Every time, we were underdogs – in the quarter-finals, semi-finals – but I believed and every time, the players did it,” said the Argentine, who had suffered semi-final heartbreak in the continental showpiece with Qatar’s Al Duhail SC in 2022.

Having allowed Yokohama to dominate the first leg, Al Ain adopted a more aggressive approach on Saturday with the Japanese side struggling to cope.

“The difference between the first and second legs was we changed our strategy. You play differently away and we also has some players who were not at a hundred percent.

“I told the players they had to believe that we have the talent to play football. I asked them to trust themselves and translate what we had done in training into the game.”

The supremely talented Soufiane Rahimi erased Yokohama’s advantage with an eighth minute strike with Alejandro Romero then scoring from the penalty spot in the 33rd to put Al Ain ahead.

Yan Matheus drew Yokohama level on aggregate with his 40th minute goal, only for the Japanese side to then be reduced to 10 men following goalkeeper William Popp’s sending off deep into first half stoppage time.

Al Ain capitalised on the one-man advantage, with tournament MVP and top scorer Rahimi netting his second in the 67th minute while substitute Kodjo Laba scored twice in added time to complete the win.

“We understood what we had to do when we had the ball. I am not a genius, what is the most important is the players. They played with great heart.

“We needed to have the personality to do it and the players did it. Doing it in a final is not easy but the players did it. I am so proud to have won the AFC Champions League,” said Crespo.

Yokohama head coach Harry Kewell said the penalty was the turning point for his side.

“Congratulations to Al Ain, they are deserving winners but for us, the penalty changed the game. We got back into the game, then we got the red card and that changed things again.

“We worked extremely hard to get to this point and it hurts, it really hurts but will use the defeat as fuel and make sure it never happens again,” said Kewell.

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