25 August 2014 23:35
Al Ain will hope that a late stadium change and subsequent travel issues have no impact on their AFC Champions League tie at Al Ittihad.
The Emirati club take a 2-0 lead to Saudi Arabia thanks to goals from Ismail Ahmed and Asamoah Gyan in the second half, but their preparations for the return leg on Tuesday have been far from ideal.
The King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah had initially been slated to host the event, until Al Ittihad told the Asian Football Confederation that the venue was not ready.
The match was subsequently switched to be held at the King Abdulaziz Sport City near Mecca, with Ain reportedly finding out just before catching a flight to Saudi Arabia.
Further travel issues arose as a result of the decision to change the venue to the King Abdulaziz Sport City, with non-Muslims unable to visit Mecca, meaning Al Ain must go around the holy city.
The stands are also set to be empty, with Ittihad picking up two sanctions from the AFC for unacceptable crowd behaviour during their triumph over Al Shabab in the round of 16.
The 2-0 deficit gives Ittihad a major obstacle to traverse if they are to reach the semi-finals and coach Khalid Al Koroni is adamant his side are prepared for a battle.
He told reporters: “We have prepared the team perfectly for the match and I have a lot of trust in the team that we can make a good comeback.
“We have no other option but to win tomorrow by at least three goals if we want to advance.
“We are satisfied with what we did in the first leg, but hopefully we can improve and win tomorrow in order to qualify.”
Ittihad emerged victorious when the two sides clashed during the group stage, winning 2-1 at home.
But Al Koroni needs an even better result on Tuesday if the 2004 and 2005 Champions League winners are to reach the final four.
One boost for Al Koroni and Ittihad is the return to fitness of close-season arrival Didier Ya Konan.
The Ivory Coast international forward was forced to sit out of the first leg due to injury, but he will be back in contention on Tuesday.
The absence of Al Ain’s Mohammed Fawzi could prove to be another piece of good news for Ittihad, with the midfielder suffering an ankle knock in the first leg.
Either Al Hilal, another Saudi side, or Qatari club Al Sadd awaits the winner in the semi-finals.