They may have lost their grip on the coveted third AFC Champions League spot, but Al Nasr head coach Ivan Jovanovic is refusing to press the panic button.
Nasr, long-term occupiers of what is likely to be the final place in the league standings offering Asian continental glory next season, were usurped by Al Wasl who went third on Friday night with a 1-1 draw at home to Emirates Club.
The Blue Wave lost 1-0 the following day at home to Al Shabab, whose win shunted them into a four-way battle for third spot, with Al Wahda also in the reckoning.
The Serb has seen his side win just two of their last eight league games, losing three, but is staying positive.
“Against Al Shabab we lost third position, but maybe it’s temporarily because we still have many games to play to try and win back this position,” said the 53-year-old, who admitted fatigue may be affecting his players but refused to use that as an excuse for recent form.
“Of course for many games played this season there is a lot of tiredness but we have a good mood to achieve a lot this year.
“Maybe losing this game is disappointing for a lot of people but the spirit of my players makes me happy. I cannot say anything to my players because I believe we make a good game.”
Having lost their grip on third place, however, Nasr face an uphill task to retrieve it with Al Jazira, Al Ain, Bani Yas and Al Ahli their next four opponents.
Al Wahda coach Javier Aguirre insists the Clarets should be fighting for the Arabian Gulf League title as the Mexican signed a 12-month contract extension on Monday that will keep him at the club until the end of the 2017 season.
Aguirre, the former Mexico, Japan and Atletico Madrid manager, replaced Sami Al Jaber at the Clarets in July and his contract had been set to expire in June.
The 57-year-old has proved a popular figure at Al Nahyan Stadium since his appointment, with his side currently sitting fifth in the Arabian Gulf League table and in the hunt for a third-placed finish which would bring AFC Champions League qualification, while Aguirre has led Wahda to the Arabian Gulf Cup final where they will play Al Shabab on April 1.
Despite the fact his side are in the running for third-place, two points off current occupiers Al Wasl, as well as a trophy in his debut campaign in UAE football, Aguirre doesn’t think Wahda have reached their potential this season.
“For next season, our target is of course to get first place. All other targets is not enough for this team,” he said.
“There are no excuses . We are in the same level of any team and we are going for anything. Today is difficult to say that. If you look at the table now we are too many points behind the leaders and we lost eight games and this number to become champions is too much.
“I have the desire to continue working with the team and I’m sure next year we will have a very strong team to compete in the big competitions.
“We need to have more energy and play together to get third position for the Asian Champions League. We have a lot of teams competing for that place and we have the President’s Cup, so ending the season with a trophy is possible. We are all taking things seriously.”
Aguirre says he and his family feel at home in Abu Dhabi and he believes he is a good fit for a club that has a strong community feel enveloping it.
“I’m very happy to sign a new contract with Al Wahda who has such unity and ambition,” he said.
“I’m not here for financial reasons. Since I’ve been here I feel at home, even my family does. My family are very happy to be here in Abu Dhabi and it’s a great city.
“Everybody has been good to me. When you have such love for one club, you don’t think about going to other teams.
“My agent spoke to me six or seven months ago, and the club told me three things – to give attention to the academy, financial stability and it’s a family-knit club. It’s a great club to be part of.
“The club has all the ingredients to achieve success in the future because we work in the spirit of a family.”
Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate is the latest name to sing the praises of UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman, with the former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant claiming ‘Amoori’ could play in any league in Europe.
The darling of the Garden City yet again pulled the strings for Al Ain in their 3-1 Al Clasico victory against the Pride of Abu Dhabi at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, and although the Dutchman was disappointed in defeat, he admitted he was still able to appreciate the talents of the 24-year-old.
“We played against a very good team in Al Ain. For me they are the best team in the league with a player, No10 (Abdulrahman), who in my opinion can play in any league in Europe,” said the 61-year-old, who briefly coached Al Ahli in 2009.
“He’s a fantastic player. Even I, as the coach of the opponent, enjoy watching this guy play.
“He has so many touches, so sensitive you know, and everything he does, when he gets the ball, is alerting the stadium, because you can expect something good is going to come. Fantastic player.”
Ten Cate and his team have largely impressed since he arrived at the end of December, although a promising start to his tenure at the capital city outfit has diminished somewhat as defeat to the Boss means he has now overseen three defeats in his last four games.
The loss, however, was masked by the absence of several stars, with Park Kong-woo, Yaqoob Al Hosani, Angel Lafita, Salem Ali, Salim Rashid and Abdulla Mousa all missing either through injury or suspension.
“Of course we made individual errors which is normal if you play with so many players who hardly play a game, but the spirit in the team was very good,” enthused Ten Cate.
“We have to lift up the spirit of the players because on Thursday we face another very tough opponent in Al Nasr, but I believe in this team and the spirit they have.”