Abu Dhabi: UAE star Omar Abdul Rahman versus Brazilian sensation Leonardo may be the deciding factor in Al Ain and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ crucial AFC Champions League final second leg battle at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday.
Facing a must-win situation to get their hands on Asia’s biggest club showpiece silverware having lost the first leg 2-1, the pressure will be on Abdul Rahman to deliver.
There is no doubt about the playmaking ability of Abdul Rahman, popularly known as Amoory.
However, all of the UAE and Al Ain will be looking towards their finest player to ensure that he hits a purple patch when it matters most.
The visitors will also be wary of Abdul Rahman’s defence splitting abilities. They got the measure of him in the first leg that saw them concede the crucial away-goal setup by the maestro himself. All that Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic will be hoping for is even more.
Abdul Rahman’s pinpoint crosses have class written all over them but Al Ain forwards are sometimes found wanting and let those deft balls go abegging.
Brazilians Douglas and Caio have not fully lived up to their country’s renowned billing but playing in front of home fans should hopefully prove effective. Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla may have been credited with that important away goal in South Korea but he has repeatedly been guilty of missing some sitters.
Hopefully, Dalic will have managed to iron out those creases before the must-win duel. The Croatian is known for his shrewd tactics and may have something up his sleeve.
The Al Ain defence looks sound and hopefully, Mohanad Salem will not repeat the cardinal sin of going for any wayward tackle in the box that saw them let the initiative slip in the first leg after leading 1-0 at one stage.
But the hosts will also have to be wary of Jeonbuk’s Brazilian trump card and stand-out player Leonardo. Like Abdul Rahman, a number 10, the Samba star showed what he is capable of when given space. His shot from a tight angle way outside the box was so clinical that it left Al Ain custodian Khalid Issa rooted.
He will be one player that Al Ain cannot leave unmarked even for a second. The Brazilian really sparked into life in the second half after lying low in the first.
Leonardo has hit top form at the right moment for Jeonbuk and they will be hoping he will provide them that one last push for glory.
“At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t playing much and didn’t have much confidence in myself,” admits the 30-year-old, who then came good in the AFC Champions League knockout stages and has netted 10 goals so far — including the brace in the first leg.
“As the year progressed though, slowly but surely, I got more game time and I developed my self-confidence and my play improved,” said Leonardo.
“We have to play intelligently in Saturday’s game and we have to work hard and work together to ensure we can secure the victory we need. The AFC Champions League is everything we’ve worked towards this year, not just this year, but ever since losing the 2011 final.”