Iraq’s Arbil have enjoyed consistent improvement in the AFC Cup over the last four seasons culminating in last year’s runner-up finish and coach Rodion Gacanin has backed his charges to make a positive start to the new campaign against Yemen’s Ahli Taiz SC on Tuesday.
Arbil lost last year’s final 4-0 to Kuwait Sports Club despite playing at home at Francouse Al-Hareeri Stadium having built on their 2009 quarter-final appearance with a run to the semi-finals a year later.
And having seen his side beat Al Najaf 4-1 in the Iraq League on Thursday, Gacanin has backed the 2011/12 domestic champions to continue the club’s proud AFC Cup tradition this year starting with play-off winners Ahli Taiz.
“I have a lot of confidence in my players that they will play well and get our first win in the competition,” said Arbil’s Croatian coach Gacanin (pictured) ahead of the Group B opener.
“We don’t have a lot of information about our opponents, but we respect them and we will try to play our best.
“We might have some problems concerning the players’ fitness due to the heavy schedule of the local league, however, we have a lot determination to win the match and hopefully we can entertain the big crowd that will support us.”
Ahli Taaz qualified for the AFC Cup via the playoff after beating Al Wahda 5-3 in Syria last month thanks to two goals from Waleed Al Hubaishi.
But Sami Naash’s 2012 President’s Cup winners left Yemen on Friday having being edged out by reigning domestic champions and fellow AFC Cup qualifiers Al Sha'ab Ibb in the Super Cup final last month following a 1-1 draw.
“The match against Arbil will be very hard and our target will be to play well and try our best to be good opponents,” said Naash.
“Arbil are clear favourites to win the match since they have several good players and they were the runners-up of last year.
“They will also be playing at home in front of their fans and this will give them a boost while our players are young and they lack the necessary experience of playing in such competitions.”
Also in Group B on Tuesday, Oman double winners Fanja will be without defender Mohamad Suwaid due to injury for the visit of Lebanon’s Al Ansar.
Having claimed the league and cup double in 2011/12, Fanja shared a 1-1 draw against Salala on Friday to sit five points behind current league leaders Saham.
“We have prepared for the tournament very well through our league matches,” said Fanja assistant coach Mohsin Al Kharusi.
“The match is very important for us because we want to have a good start and hopefully we can get a good result in order to get a big push for the upcoming matches.
“Al Ansar are a big team and they have won a lot of titles in Lebanon, but we are also a good side and we have great achievements as well.”
Lebanese FA Cup winners Al Ansar, meanwhile, travelled to Muscat following a timely 4-0 win over Salam Sour in the Lebanon Premier League on Friday.
“The match against Fanja will not be easy and we have previously played against several Omani clubs,” said Al Ansar coach Jamal Taha.
“Football in Oman has improved in the recent years and Fanja are a good side, but we also have a strong team and we want to win the match in order to get a good start.
“We will go into the game with great spirits after the big win we achieved in Lebanon league recently and I’m confident that the players will play well in order to return to Lebanon with a good result.”