Al Jazira are aiming for historic first qualification to the AFC Champions League quarter-finals
Coach Henk ten Cate has declared “the big pressure” is on hosts Persepolis, despite Al Jazira needing to run the gauntlet at feared Azadi Stadium if they are to secure a landmark 2018 AFC Champions League quarter-final berth.
A fevered crowd at Tehran’s infamous 78,116-capacity venue is expected on Monday for this anticipated continental decider. The teams played out a rollercoaster first leg at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium last week, from which 19-year-old defender Khalifa Al Hammadi’s 96th-minute header earned a 3-2 advantage for the Pride of Abu Dhabi.
Composure will be key in a cauldron atmosphere to earning a club-first progression into the round of 16.
“I know their strengths, but I also know their weaknesses,” said Ten Cate, 63, of the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League winners.
“The pressure is on them, the big pressure is on Persepolis. A lot of people within the stadium, which mean extra stress.
“We are a small club from a small country and we came here to play in this beautiful city.
“It is a crazy city, according to traffic. We will enjoy the game of football and make the people in Abu Dhabi proud.”
Jazira have endured mixed fortunes throughout 2017/18.
Their limp Arabian Gulf League title defence ended with a distant seventh-placed finish. But they pushed Real Madrid all the way in December’s Club World Cup semi-finals and came through a tough Group A during continental competition.
“Qualifying for the big stage would save their season,” said Persepolis’ ex-Al Wahda boss, Branko Ivankovic.
“They have the advantage at 3-2. But there is still 90 minutes in front of our fans.”
The imposing Azadi looms over this decider. Yet, Ten Cate is expecting this to inspire – and not sink – his callow squad.
He said: “I remember and I recall the Club World Cup. It only excited my players and gave them an extra boost.”
The Dutchman boasts a fully-fit squad. Veteran captain Jalal Hosseini is back for Persepolis, but injury should rule out Iran defensive midfielder Kamal Kamyabinia.