Donda: 'Players to blame for Al Wasl form'

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Too late to apologise: Donda says the players should shoulder the blame for the side's form that saw Hector Cuper sacked.

Mariano Donda believes Al Wasl’s players should take full responsibility for the club’s recent slump, following the exit of coach Hector Cuper.

Wasl confirmed Cuper’s departure by mutual consent yesterday, less than 24 hours after the Cheetahs finished their UAE League Cup campaign with a 3-2 home defeat to Al Nasr.

The Argentine won just four of his 16 games in charge, while a run of one victory in their last nine Arabian Gulf League games has seen Wasl slip to 10th, just three places above the relegation zone.

Wasl’s players were given the day off yesterday and had not been told by the club that Cuper would be leaving but Donda thinks they must shoulder some of the blame.

“Sometimes in soccer it is easier to put out one person and not 20 players,” the midfielder told Sport360°. “I think we are the most responsible, we are trying to do our best during the week and on the weekend.

“I think we are playing better than the results are saying, but in soccer the only thing that matters is winning.

“I apologise to the coach, to the staff because they are good professionals but what I can say is that we must continue because we have another seven matches to finish as well as possible this season.”

Donda will have to wait to find out the identity of the new coach. Wasl confirmed that Saeed Abdulrahman would return for his second caretaker stint of the season.

The Argentine midfielder has worked under six full-time coaches since arriving at the Zabeal Stadium in the summer of 2011 while Gilles Morriseau and Nasser Khamis took temporary charge of the first team once Bruno Metsu was taken ill at the beginning of last season.

And he believes the only way that Wasl are going to starting climbing the Arabian Gulf League is through hard work.

“I hope to finish as well as possible. This is a good group with good people and we are trying to do our best during the week,” the 31-yearold said.

“But this is soccer and when you have a difficult situation you must look to the future and trust that what we are doing is good.”

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Zenga worried that congested calendar will effect Cup campaigns

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Full diary: Zenga's side face a manic month as they compete across a number of competitions.

Al Jazira boss Walter Zenga admitted fixture congestion will make it “tough” for both his side and Al Ahli to progress in the UAE League Cup.

Victory over Al Wahda on Sunday night ensured last year’s beaten finalists are one game away from a shot at redemption but also means the Pride of Abu Dhabi face a potentially exhausting run of four games in 11 days.

Jazira’s League Cup semi-final against Al Dhafra on March 15 is sandwiched between two AFC Champions League trips, to Riyadh to face Al Shabab four days prior, and to Esteghlal on the March 18, three days later.

Just four days after their game in Iran, Jazira then welcome Wahda back to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium for an Arabian Gulf League match.

Ahli, who face Sharjah in the last four, face a similarly congested couple of weeks as they face Al Sadd and Sepahan on March 12 and 19, with Al Ain waiting on March 23.

By contrast, the League Cup provides the only competitive action for fellow semi-finalists Dhafra and Sharjah, until league football resumes on March 21.

“It’s a very tough period, very difficult for us and Al Ahli I think,” Zenga said. “Sharjah and Dhafra don’t have any games in this period.

“There are two different points of view [to take], one is that one team is more fresh, they can work and train. The other is that the most important training for a team is the game.

“It depends on which way you look at this problem. For me and for [Ahli] the problem is the same, for the two coaches that don’t play in the Champions League they have a problem between the games because there is a long time.”

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Mahdi’s much changed side out to impress against Uzbekistan

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Sharp-shooter: Ali Mabkhout is the top scorer in AFC Asian Cup qualifying.

UAE coach Mahdi Ali will test some new faces against Uzbekistan this afternoon but insists the Whites want to finish their Asian Cup qualifying campaign with a win.

Mahdi’s side go into their final Group E game with a perfect record, having won five from five games so far, but missing three of their more influential players.

Omar Abdulrahman and namesake Amer are both absent as they continue their rehibilitation from long-term injuries, while Al Wahda forward Ismail Matar was not included in the 24-man party.

Mahdi has instead taken the opportunity to add a couple of fresh faces to his squad with Sharjah pair, Mohamed Yousef and Ahmed Khamis, Al Dhafra midfielder Bandar Mohammed Al Ahbabi and Al Wasl striker Mohammed Nasser all included.

With Mohamed Abdulrahman and Salem Saleh, who each have two caps, also in Tashkent, the side that takes to the field at the Bunyodkor Stadium could boast an unfamiliar look, but Mahdi is predicting an exciting game.

“Both teams have already qualified for the Asian Cup so it gives us a chance to see some attacking football, although we want to continue our run of successful results and we want to win,” he said.

“I have called up four new players for the match and it is a big challenge for them and I hope it will be good motivation for them.

“Uzbekistan will also have some changes with some young players. The season also has not started in Uzbekistan, but both teams are ready to play.”

Although both teams have already qualified for next January’s finals tournament in Australia, and the UAE are assured of top spot in Group E, victory is still vitally important for the Whites.

The UAE are currently ranked No58 in the world and fifth in Asia by FIFA. However they are just one place below their opponents this afternoon in the world rankings, and five away from tournament hosts Australia.

A win could see the Whites climb as high as third in Asia, which would be a timely boost with the draw for the finals set to take place at the Sydney Opera House on March 26.

“In every game we play, we must have the desire to win,” Mahdi said. “Our motivation was not only to qualify, we want to be part of the semi-finals at the Asian Cup, which is an essential requirement for us, and as a result the game means we can climb the rankings before the draw for the tournament."

The Emirati coach added: “We’re working every day to get better from the previous day and here comes the incentive to win and continue our achievements.“

Much of the UAE squad have fond memories of playing in Tashkent, having secured their passage to the London Olympics with a 3-2 win over Uzbekistan here two years ago.

But Mahdi, who revealed he knows “95 per cent” of the squad that will travel to Australia next January does not think that result – or the 2-1 victory achieved in Abu Dhabi just under 12 months ago – will have any bearing on this afternoon’s game.

Meanwhile, there is added incentive for striker Ali Mabkhout, who will want to maintain his position as the leading scorer in qualifying.

The Al Jazira forward currently has six goals to his name, two more than Qatar’s Khalfan Ibrahim and Iran’s Javad Nekounam.

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