Al Jazira forward Ailton Almeida has launched a defence of coach Henk ten Cate after a severely-depleted side was predictably sunk in the 2017 AFC Champions League, insisting the Dutchman always “chooses what is best for the team”.
A starting XI stripped of eight regulars fell to a 1-0 home defeat against Iran’s Esteghlal Khuzestan on Monday night, courtesy of striker Aloys Nong’s second-minute volley. This approach has been met with widespread derision, following a second reversal in two matches which has placed hopes of progression from Group B in serious jeopardy.
Ten Cate’s repeatedly insisted post-match that protecting his side’s nine-point advantage in the Arabian Gulf League ahead of back-to-back clashes against holders Al Ahli and runners-up Al Ain was the appropriate choice. And this pragmatic viewpoint was backed by 32-year-old Almeida, who emphasised his trust in the seasoned supremo’s judgement.
“It is a decision of the coach, of course,” said the Brazilian, who has struck seven times in 22 games since a summer move from Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal. “He chooses the players to play.
“Of course, everyone can see he made a mix of the players who have not been playing much, while some who play all the time went on the bench. That is his choice.
“It is the coach’s choice and he chooses what is best for the team.”
Lifting a first AGL crown since 2010/11 has become the priority for the Pride of Abu Dhabi. A stern test of their credentials will come this Saturday in Dubai, with anything but a win for the hosts set to deliver a critical blow to their title defence.
“We didn’t have even one conversation about this [Ahli] game yet,” Almeida stated. “We were preparing just for this AFC Champions League game, here.
“Of course, we were very focused on the game. But sometimes, when you receive a goal within the first minute it transforms everything in the wrong way.
“We prepared for only this AFC Champions League game. We did not think about the other games.
“I mean, we want to win. We are giving everything to win.”
Jazira will now have to win at least three of the next four ACL fixtures to stand any realistic chance of progression, starting with March 14’s trip to Saudi Arabia’s Al Fateh.