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Preview - Group B: Sharjah target victory against Air Force Club to zoom in on AFC Champions League Round of 16 spot

Sharjah: Group B hosts Sharjah FC will be hoping to repeat their Matchday One win over Air Force Club of Iraq on Monday as they look to extend their unbeaten run in the 2021 AFC Champions League to five matches.

Victory against Air Force Club will go a long way in taking Sharjah closer to the Round of 16, as it would move them to 11 points. In fact, should Islamic Republic of Iran's Tractor FC fail to beat Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan in the group's earlier tie on Monday, a Sharjah win over Air Force Club will book them their last 16 ticket with a match to spare.

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Midfielder Khalid Bawazir ran into space at the far post and drove home Caio’s excellent cross just after the hour-mark to get Sharjah’s campaign off to a winning start against Air Force Club almost a fortnight ago.

Sharjah built on that result, going on a four-game undefeated run and maintaining the top spot of Group B with eight points. A goalless draw against Tractor in Matchday Two was followed by an emphatic 4-1 triumph over Pakhtakor, then three days later, they rescued a late 1-1 draw against the Uzbek side thanks to substitute Mohammed Khalfan.

Coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s men have been boosted by the return of two key members of the team; playmaker Igor Coronado came off the bench for the final nine minutes last time out and could be set for more playing time on Monday after recovering from a back injury. UAE international left-back Al Hasan Saleh was an unused substitute for the first team since the start of the competition in the 1-1 draw against Pakhtakor.

“We've prepared well and all our players are ready to go," said Al Anbari. "We face Air Force Club for the second time in a very important match for us as we pursue qualification to the next round.

"The biggest challenge for us now is reaching the fifth game of playing once every 72 hours, so physically it is very difficult for the players who have put in a lot of effort, but the work of the medical and fitness coaching staff has been really good. The players’ response to the recovery and preparation process between games has been excellent and indicative of their desire and passion.

"The players feel the responsibility now more than ever. We know we are here to represent the UAE as a whole, and not just our club. Last season we were very close to qualifying to the Round of 16 but could not make it in the end. Most of the players are the same, so I hope we have learned our lessons and will be able to go through this time.”

2021 AFC Champions League: Sharjah 1-0 Air Force Club

Air Force Club might not have been mathematically eliminated, but their latest disappointment - a 1-0 defeat to Tractor courtesy of an early Mehdi Tikdarinejad goal - left them bottom of the group with just two points from four games, with just the faintest of hopes of progressing to the next round.

The Iraqi side, however, have showed impressive defensive resilience, the two goals conceded mean they boast the joint meanest defence in the group and the competition as a whole, but where they have struggled is in attack where they find themselves the only team in the 2021 AFC Champions League yet to score after four rounds of play.

Coach Ayman Odisho will be without the services of defender Maytham Jabbar, who was dismissed 38 minutes into the previous game for a foul on Tractor’s Peyman Babaei who was through on goal.

“Two games to go, and both are very important," expressed Odisho. "This game is important for Sharjah, but it is even more important for us. I hope everyone will be able to give their best. In these games, emotions will run high, so I hope the players will not let emotions get to them and will stay focused.

"The same players who were there in the previous match will be available except for Ehsan Haddad, who was injured in the previous game and will not recover in time, in addition to the suspension of Maytham Jabbar.

"We have young players who are appearing in the competition for the first time and with our club for the first time so this is a new experience for them. Absences will make a difference, but the most important thing is to avoid mistakes and to take our chances in the opposition box.”

Air Force Club (IRQ) v Sharjah (UAE)
Venue: Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah
Kick-off: 22: hours (UTC+4)

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