181208 Henk ten Cate
Al Wahda coach Henk Ten Cate Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Al Wahda coach Henk Ten Cate heralded his side as “the strongest team in the UAE” after they rallied from a goal down to cement their place in the AFC Champions League last 16 with a 3-1 win over PFC Lokomotiv in Group B on Tuesday.

“With this best performance in years, we have shown that we are the strongest team in the country at the moment; locally and in Asia,” said a jubilant Ten Cate at the post-match news briefing.

Temurkhuja Abdukholikov put the visitors in the lead after the change of ends. Al Wahda drew level through their Argentine striker Sebastian Tagliabue’s effort following a move initiated by Mohammad Al Menhali and set by Esmail Matar. The Champions League top scorer Leonardo then got into the scoring act in the 77th minute — his eighth goal of the season. Khalil Ibrahim then completed the comeback with an injury time strike.

Al Wahda thus also took the sweet revenge for their loss against Lokomotiv earlier in the campaign and have extended their winning streak to four in a row — their best ever performance in the Champions League. They now top the group with 12 points and will be travelling to Jeddah to face Al Ittihad on the final match day. Lokomotiv remain third with four points.

“I think that the unit has become the best, both technically and physically in the current period. The team showed great fighting spirit in coming from behind and scoring three goals to qualify, that also before the last match against Al Ittihad,” said Ten Cate, adding that he has full confidence that his side can go all the way if they offer the same aggression throughout the tournament.

“I have confidence in the capabilities of the players. We are reaping the rewards of the hard work we have put in recent times,” he said.

Al Wahda have scored 11 goals in three games at home so far in the Asian Championships League.

“We are not thinking about the round of 16 straight away but will be focusing on the next match against Al Ittihad. Doing well in the (Arabian Gulf) League is also at the top of our priority list”, said Ten Cate.

Al Wahda’s veteran striker Matar too was elated with his side’s effort and credited the team’s fine run of form to the coach.

“Thanks to the coach’s guidance, we managed to snatch the three precious points that ensured us to qualify for the next round and that is the most important,” he said. “It is also necessary to achieve victory against Al Ittihad next as this will give the team a significant moral boost before entering the play-offs.”