When United Arab Emirates' Al Ain won the Asian Champions League two years ago, it was not only an unprecedented achievement for the club but a proud moment for the whole nation. Particularly fitting was the fact that Al Ain, the place where the seven Emirates was founded, was the destination of its first ever international trophy.
"What Al Ain have achieved is a reflection of what our country is all about," Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan told the club's players after their victory over Thailand BEC Tero Sasana in 2003. "It is living proof that with good planning and organisation, we can make miracles in such a short period. You are an icon for our nation."
Eden of the Gulf
The club, established in 1968, is located in the city of Al Ain, 150 km in land from the capital Abu Dhabi. Taking its name from water spring, Al Ain is a peaceful, enchanting place in the middle of the thirsty desert of the Gulf. The lush green oasis in which 30 million palm trees have been planted has attracted visitors from all corners of the globe.
"The city is part of heaven. You can work here, have fun and enjoy the best recreation facilities," words not from a tourist guidebook but from the lips of their former coach Bruno Metsu, the man who steered them to that first Asian title.
The idea to decorate their shirts with purple came about a few years ago while Al Ain were competing in a friendly tournament in Morocco. Club officials immediately took to the pigment of their Belgian opponents Anderlecht and soon after they adopted the colour. Now, the city's 25 parks display the purple tinge.
Throughout its history, Al Ain have enjoyed the support of many of the country's sheikhs, especially those from the capital Abu Dhabi. Money has seldom been a problem and the side has fought a healthy rivalry with Al Wahda and Ahli, clubs from the Emirate of Dubai.
However the focus has always been on professionalism and, while losing their top striker in the summer, the club made a handsome profit from the sale of Ivorian Boubacar Sanogo to German side Kaiserslautern. Al Ain also enjoy one of the most developed sporting infrastructures in the region and their Khalifa Ben Zayed ground has an 18,000 capacity.
This year's run to the semi-finals has been far from smooth. The only side to have featured in each of the three knockout stages of the three-year-old Asian Champions League, eliminated Iran's Pas on away goals in the quarter-finals last week.
Helal Saeed, who was the hero against Pas by scoring two late goals, believes the battles have only made them stronger.
"Every time our fans felt we were out or far from the title, we were able to revive their hopes with an extraordinary recovery," said the midfielder. "I think we might be destined after all to win this trophy again."
His coach Milan Macala does not want to leave anything to chance against China's Shenzhen Jianlibao in the semi-finals.
"It is now time for the big names," said the Czech. "Luck might not be enough while playing against those teams but I believe that we have what it takes to compete for the cup."
Macala will be hoping that his Nigerian striker Nwoha Onyekachi, who arrived this season to replace Sanogo, will be able to regain his scoring touch before Wednesday's encounter. If he does, the colour purple could well cast its shadow throughout the continent.