Recently-dismissed Argentina boss Edgardo Bauza is determined to close on Asia’s football heavyweights after he travelled to Dubai on Tuesday in order to seal a two-year deal as the UAE’s next coach.
Bauza, 59, departed from his native country after terms were agreed to succeed Mahdi Ali and reignite the Whites’ faltering bid for a second-ever World Cup qualification. This marks an instant return to work after he was sacked last month after just eight miserable matches in charge of La Albiceleste.
Speaking to reporters outside Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Buenos Aires, El Paton targeted advancements towards Group B-opponents Japan and Australia on the Road to Russia.
“I know the soccer of that area because I worked four months in Arabia [at Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr in 2009],” he told ESPN Argentina. “It’s not the Emirates but I know the nature of the players from there.
“I’m traveling to close on details of the contract and to see the work conditions. There is a game in 25 days [in Thailand on June 13].
“We have to know the team and get it ready. I saw some videos but I need to know it more.
“The goal is to be close to Japan and Australia, the two big teams in that area.”
Bauza – who won three caps and travelled to World Cup 1990 as a player – has concurred on an outline agreement which expires immediately after the 2019 Asian Cup, which is to be held in the Emirates. The highlights of his managerial career have been winning the Copa Libertadores with Ecuador’s LDU Quito in 2008 and Argentina’s San Lorenzo in 2014.
The UAE are fourth with three games left in the third-and-final round of qualifying for World Cup 2018, one place and four points outside the advancement spots in Group B.
After the match in Bangkok versus already-eliminated opponents, they host Bert van Marwijk’s high-flying Saudi Arabia on August 31 and finish off against Iraq on September 5. They will likely need to take all nine points to stand any chance of success.
Al Ahli goalkeeper Majed Nasser has refused to get carried away by thoughts of another all-UAE round-of-16 clash ahead of the battle with Uzebekistan’s Lokomotiv Tashkent which will decide his side’s fate.
The Red Knights must avoid a loss on Tuesday night as Group A rounds up to guarantee a second-ever entry into the knockout stages. The historic previous run, which ultimately ended in defeat to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in November 2015’s final, contained a meeting with bitter rivals Al Ain and a draw will likely set-up a repeat against the Group C winners.
“It is great to play big teams in Asia,” said 33-year-old Nasser, whose club currently tops the pool.
“If we are to play a team from the UAE, it will be different from an Arabian Gulf League game.
“I hope to qualify and whoever we play next, it doesn’t matter.”
Ahli’s only defeat in the group came in Tashkent during February, midfielder Salamat Kutibaev scoring the second-fastest goal ever seen in the competition to spark a 2-0 win. To avoid another reversal versus the Uzbek League leaders, coach Cosmin Olaroiu will have to manage a striking crisis with Ahmed Khalil injured and Makhete Diop suspended.
But the Romanian was convinced his players will battle through.
He said: “We are not in the best situation, but I hope and trust the players to make one more effort, be concentrated and focused to reach our target to qualify.”
Bottom-placed Loko – who were beaten 1-0 on aggregate in last year’s quarter-finals by the Boss – must win on the road in the ACL for just the second time in 12 games to stand any chance of progression.
“I think both teams will show good football and if you see in last games, we scored many goals,” said optimistic coach Andrey Miklyaev. “We can also score many goals again and win the match.”
Elsewhere, newly-crowned AGL winners Al Jazira finish up a miserable Asian campaign at Iran’s Esteghlal Khuzestan.
Al Wahda face a mission improbable to make the 2017 AFC Champions League knockouts on Monday night as they aim for a memorable victory at Iran giants Persepolis and hope other results go their way.
The Clarets had only one point after their first four games in a punishing Group D. But a remarkable 5-1 thrashing of Qatar’s Al Rayyan last time out has given them a fighting chance of making the latter stages for the first time in a decade.
They must now defeat the runaway Persian Gulf Pro League winners at their imposing, 78,116-capacity Azadi Stadium and see already-qualified Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia turn over Rayyan.
“We face a big test in Iran,” said Wahda coach Javier Aguirre. “We have to win in Persepolis and we are waiting for the other results.
“It will be a tough game in front of maybe 60,000 fans. It will be crazy.
“Persepolis have put in a good performance and play in a tough way. But I have confidence in my players to win the game.”
The omens do not look great for Wahda, who remain a distant fifth in the Arabian Gulf League after collapsing to a 2-2 draw at home to minnows Dibba Al Fujairah on Wednesday. Arteshe sorkh have lost just one of their last 30 home matches in all competitions, with their previous Asian reversal at the Azadi incurred in May 2012.
The Clarets also pitifully conceded two goals in the last 10 minutes during February’s first meetings, collapsing to a 3-2 loss.
Branko Ivankovic – who had an undistinguished year at Wahda from 2012-13 – wanted his troops to exhibit a positive attitude and gain the victory required to potentially eliminate Rayyan.
He said: “We have to play in an energetic way and be full of optimism. It will not be easy for us and for them – Wahda will be full of optimism after they beat Al Rayyan.”
If Wahda – who play Al Nasr in next week’s President’s Cup final – manage to grab second spot, they will meet Qatar Stars League champions Lekhwiya on May 23 and 30.