Dubai: The first cracks in Al Ahli’s otherwise faultless campaign may start to appear as the Red Knights travel away to Iran’s Sepahan in the third group-stage clash of the Asian Champions League (ACL) on Wednesday.
Cosmin Olaroiu’s team are currently six points clear at the top of the Arabian Gulf League with seven games remaining and they are in the finals of both the UAE’s domestic cup competitions — the President’s Cup and League Cup.
However, it remains to be seen if they can overcome the increased workload to turn their treble chances into a historic quadruple with a dream run on the continent.
And if something does have to give, it could well be their ACL involvement as things come to a head at the Fooladshahr Stadium in Istafan from 7.30pm.
Having drawn their two previous ACL group-stage encounters 2-2 away to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and 1-1 at home to Qatar’s Al Sadd, the onus is on them at the halfway stage of the group phase to seize the initiative.
Al Ahli are currently third in Group D, a point behind second-placed Sepahan, who have lost 3-1 away to Al Sadd and won 3-2 at home to Al Hilal so far.
“The next game is the key for us,” said Al Ahli’s Chilean midfielder Luis Jimenez. “If we win, we can stay in the competition, but if we lose in Iran, then qualification will be very difficult.
“If we win, we can move top of the group, although it depends on the other result [Al Sadd versus Al Hilal]. We’re still in the competition, so it’s in our hands. I hope we will improve.”
Olaroiu had earlier set out the domestic league title as the team’s top priority for the season and fans will arguably concede that early ACL elimination would enable the team to concentrate more on an unprecedented domestic treble.
Olaroiu, though, is hesitant to write off Asia just for the sake of it. “It’s a little difficult for us because we are still involved in all competitions,” he said. “But even though the AFC Champions League is not our main priority, we will still try our best in this competition.
“I want to win every game, it doesn’t matter which competition, which level. I always want to win because football is all I have, football is all I am. It is my life and when I go home at night, when I go to sleep, I know I have done my best to win each game I play.”