Underdogs Al-Ain can make Asian Champions League dream come true, says Erik

DOHA: Al-Ain deserved to reach the Asian Champions League final after eliminating Saudi giants Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and will continue to defy the odds to make their dream of lifting the trophy come true, Brazilian defender Erik has told Reuters.

The side from the United Arab Emirates progressed 5-4 on aggregate against Al Hilal, winning 4-2 in the first leg before losing 2-1 in the return last Tuesday when Erik equalised before suffering an injury that forced him off after 18 minutes.

They will face Yokohama F Marinos in the final after the Japanese team beat Ulsan Hyundai on penalties.

Against the odds Al-Ain beat Al-Hilal, who have several internationals including defender Kalidou Koulibaly, goalkeeper Bono and striker Alexander Mitrovic, who missed the tie injured, plus midfield duo Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ruben Neves.

"We've watched Al-Hilal against local rivals Al-Ittihad in the Champions League and we were able to see the weaknesses of both," left back Erik said in an interview.

"God wrote the perfect story and chose Al-Ain to fight Al Hilal's invincibility and there is nothing more rewarding than that."

Al-Ain ended Al-Hilal's world record run of 34 consecutive victories when they won the first leg.

"We were aware of our team's strength, although most predictions were in favour of Al-Hilal. We were determined to compete strongly regardless of the opponent's strength. We never stopped dreaming," Erik added.

"With the confidence that we gained in the first half at home in the first leg the belief increased that we could qualify for the final."

Al-Ain's Argentine coach Hernan Crespo exacted revenge for last season's 7-0 loss to Al-Hilal in the Champions League when he was in charge of Qatar's Al-Duhail.

"Crespo told us before the first game that he is very proud of us and that Al-Hilal players are not from another world," the Brazilian added.

"We trust our coach; he is a legend in the world of football. He spoke to us with confidence, experience and his words gave us hope."


Surprise package Al-Ain knocked out Cristiano Ronaldo's Al-Nassr in the quarter-finals in a penalty shootout after a 4-4 draw on aggregate.

"Before the tournament began, according to the media, our chances were 1% or less of being champions.

"I think logically we made the job easier and only us or Marinos can win the competition this season.

"That's already a big privilege and we are very proud and will fight with all of our strength for our big dream," he said of his side's chances of lifting the trophy.

"We followed the game between Marinos and Ulsan Hyundai in the semi-finals and we had already started studying both teams."

Erik expects to be available for the final despite being injured against Al-Hilal. The first leg takes place on May 11 at Yokohama with Al-Ain hosting the return two weeks later.

Asked about the possibility of moving to the Saudi league, he said: "It's difficult for me to play for another club in Asia, I feel at home here. I'm a player for Al-Ain, the biggest club in the Emirates.

However, Erik added: "If there's a good offer for Al-Ain and for me, nothing is impossible. Everyone knows my desire is to play in Europe, but now I have the opportunity to play in the final of the Asian Champions League...

"I think to play for Brazil it's easier to move to Europe, the Brazilian team doesn't have eyes for Asia but I continue to do my best and trust that God's will comes true in my life." --Reuters

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