Al Hilal's Calderon confident for opener

Al Hilal coach Gabriel Calderon remains confident his side can make a winning start to the 2011 AFC Champions League despite having to contend with a number of injuries.

The Saudi side, who reached the semi-finals of the tournament last year, host Sepahan at King Fahd International Stadium in their opening game in Group A today. Al Hilal top their domestic league after 18 games but injuries have taken their toll recently, forcing Calderon to make changes to his starting 11.

"We know that the AFC Champions League matches are really important," he said. "We want to have a powerful start although our task will not be easy. We were hoping to give a chance to a lot of players but due to injuries, our plans have been changed although we are confident that we can do all our best and achieve the three points."

Sepahan coach Farhad Kazemi knows that his players will need to avoid succumbing to the intimidating atmosphere that will likely be created by the vociferous home fans tomorrow. "The game will be hard for us although we are hoping to get a good result which can help us in our run in the competition," he said. "Al Hilal are a strong team and it is hard to beat them especially when they play at home."

Gulf contest
Meanwhile, Al Jazira coach Abel Braga does not believe his side's Asian Champions League commitments will distract his players from their domestic title charge. The UAE side currently enjoy a seven-point lead at the top of the standings and look on course for a first-ever championship title while they are also in the semi-finals of the President's Cup.

They face Al Gharafa at Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium today looking to pick up only their second-ever win on the continental stage and Braga sees no reason why his side cannot fight successfully on three fronts. "Last season we only won the Etisalat Cup but this year we are focused on the League, the President's Cup and the ACL," he said. "We have high hopes and we are also aware that we are in a strong group. The team wears a professional mentality. We may not be a better team than Al Gharafa but we are in a stronger condition."

Al Gharafa coach Caio Junior is serving a four-game suspension while midfielder Bilal Abdulrahman is also suspended. The Qataris topped their group last year but assistant Almir Domingues stressed that history counts for nothing. "This is another season and we are keen to start off with some points," he said. "We do have some minor injuries but regarding that and the line-up, this is not for the media but for the coach, the doctor and the players."