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Yokohama's Japanese player Kota Watanabe (L), midfielder Riku Yamane (C) and player Takuya Kida (2nd R) celebrate their victory during the AFC Champions League final first leg football match between UAE's Al Ain and Japan's Yokohama F. Marinos at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo, on May 11, 2024. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

Yokohama: Harry Kewell says his Yokohama F-Marinos will “have to suffer” to win the Asian Champions League despite taking a one-goal lead into Saturday’s second leg of the final at Hernan Crespo’s Al Ain.

Kewell’s side won the first leg 2-1 in Japan two weeks ago and now head to the UAE for the return at what is likely to be a packed Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.

Former Leeds and Liverpool forward Kewell warned that Yokohama will have “everything against us” as the away team, but backed his men to lift the trophy for the first time.

“I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and I’m going to make sure my team’s not afraid of this challenge,” the Australian said after a 1-1 draw with FC Tokyo in the J. League on Sunday.

“It’s going to be tough, but to win an ACL it has to be tough. Nothing’s given for free, you have to pay for it, you have to work for it.

“We have to suffer if we want to pick up this title,” added Kewell, who succeeded fellow Australian former international Kevin Muscat as Yokohama boss in late December.

Al Ain took a 12th-minute lead in the first leg before Yokohama scored midway through the second half and again six minutes from time to take control of the tie.

Crespo said he was “very confident” that Al Ain can overturn the deficit in front of their home fans.

“We know what it means to play at home with our fans — today was not easy because their fans shouted and supported their team,” he said after the first leg.

“In two weeks it will be the opposite. We need to take advantage of that.”

Crespo and Kewell are meeting as coaches in the Asian Champions League final almost 20 years after they faced off as players in the European equivalent.

Crespo was part of the AC Milan side that lost to Kewell’s Liverpool in the Uefa Champions League final in Istanbul in 2005.

Mentally strong

The Argentine great scored two goals as Milan took a 3-0 half-time lead before Liverpool famously roared back to draw 3-3 and win on penalties.

Since the first leg of the final, Al Ain have lost one game and won the other in their domestic league. Yokohama have lost one and drawn one.

Kewell admitted that the second leg of the final has cast a long shadow over his team’s league form. They are in the bottom half of the division with four victories from 13 league games.

“You’d be lying if you hadn’t been thinking about this game, because it’s huge,” he said.

“I’ve been in this situation as a player as well — as much as you try to shake it off, it’s there in the background.

“So you have to be mentally strong and you have to be prepared.”