Sebastian Tagliabue prioritises Arabian Gulf Super Cup and match sharpness for Al Wahda ahead of Arab Club Championship

Matt Jones 21/07/2017
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Sebastian Tagliabue has insisted Al Wahda are keen to add more silverware to the club’s trophy cabinet at the Arab Club Championship, although he is making domestic issues the pre-season priority.

The Clarets take on Algeria’s NA Hussein Dey in their opening Group A game tonight in Cairo – where local sides Al Ahly, Zamalek and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, as well as Wahda – are expected to be among the favourites.

Wahda kick off at 19:30 UAE time at Al Salam Stadium, with Egyptian giants Ahly taking on Jordan’s Al Faisaly in Group A’s later kick-off.

Prolific striker Tagliabue has declared his President’s Cup holders would love to become the first UAE team to win the tournament – back after a four-year hiatus – but claims his eyes are firmly set on a mouthwatering Super Cup clash on September 15 with Arabian Gulf League champions and fierce Abu Dhabi rivals Al Jazira.

“Of course when we play in any competition we want to win it, but we must not lose the objective, which is to arrive in the best way to the Super Cup,” said Tagliabue, 32.

“We are just starting pre-season and we will have only 10 trainings when we play the first game. It’s a cup so it should be to good to get minutes on the pitch after training hard. But I repeat, the most important game in this time is the Super Cup.”

Wahda could be back in Egypt for that Super Cup clash, played between Jazira and Al Ahli last season, with the UAE season’s traditional curtain-raiser possibly set to again be played in the Egyptian capital.

Today’s game will see Romanian Laurentiu Reghecampf take charge of his first Wahda game and Tagliabue has been impressed with what he’s seen of his new coach in the early weeks of his reign.

“The coach is very interesting, he is similar to Javier Aguirre in that he likes to apply pressure and to play attacking football,” added the affable Argentine.

“He’s very serious and shows us he likes to work professionally. The first week of pre-season was very good, we didn’t train so hard, it was more about adapting to being back, but we have been training with intensity in the second week.”

It is hard to gauge how far Wahda can go in the tournament, with today’s game the first run-out for the players, while Reghecampf is without the likes to veteran striker Ismail Matar and all-action midfielder Tariq Ahmed, while Mohamed Al Akbari, Ahmed Rashid and Mohammad Abdulbasit are also missing after their exploits with the UAE Under-23s at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers.

“There is a shortage of players,” admitted Reghecampf, the former Hilal and two-time Steaua Bucharest coach.

“The team had gathered shortly after a long vacation and we will try to avoid injuries. The reasons are known for the Olympic players who have matches with the team, while Ismail Matar and Tariq Ahmed need to rest after their return from the UAE first team.

“We have come to Cairo to try to make good quality matches and we use the tournament as preparation to provide a good level for the new season.”

Hussein Dey, who finished seventh in Algeria’s Ligue 1 last season, qualified for the tournament as 2015/16 Algerian Cup runners-up. Coach Nabil Neghiz says his side have not had the best preparation ahead of the tournament but feels they have as much chance to qualify for the semi-finals – with the winners of each of the three groups progressing as well as the best runner-up – as their opponents.

“We came in difficult circumstances, our team did not find the time to prepare but we are happy to be in our second country, Egypt,” said Neghiz.

“Our chance to qualify is equal to Al Faisali, Al Wahda and Al Ahly. The result of the first game is very important.”

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Alejandro Gagliardi gains Arabian Gulf League attention

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Winging in: Alejandro Gagliardi (r) in action against Boca juniors (Getty).

Argentine attacker Alejandro Gagliardi could be heading to the Arabian Gulf League after a number of sides registered interest in his services.

Gagliardi, 27, is currently available on a free transfer after a successful one-season return to Argentinian football with Patronato ended with two goals and four assists provided in 23 Primera Division run-outs. The ex-Rosario Central and Nueva Chicago star – who performed on the right wing last term, despite his preference to be a second striker – had been at Mexico’s Monarcas Morelia prior to this stint.

“Two clubs from the Arabian Gulf League have called me and of course, it’s of interest for Alejandro to play in the Middle East,” said agent Peter Gardiner. “We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks as we work through the offers.”

With the majority of AGL clubs swiftly being able to fill their three non-Asian qualified spots in the foreign quota, berths at a quartet of clubs are possibilities. These include promoted Ajman, relegation-dodging Emirates Club and the amalgamated Sharjah Cultural Club.

At the top end of the table, Al Ain could still be in the market for a wide player despite an announcement last week that they plan to re-register Brazilian striker Douglas.

Gagliardi scored 11 times in 125 games for hometown club Instituto. He then moved between Rosario, All Boys, Union Santa Fe and Nueva, before switching to Mexico in December 2015.

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UAE salute spot-on Ahmed Al Attas as they close on AFC U-23 Championship

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Time for a hero: Ahmed Al Attas (l) saved the UAE (UAE Football Association).

Pivotal forward Ahmed Al Attas was spot on when it mattered for the UAE as his last-gasp penalty against spiky Lebanon exorcised a night of frustration and pushed his nation to the verge of 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualification.

Coach Hassan Al Abdoli had looked set to explode on the touchline as he watched his dominant charges waste a succession of chances and be inexplicably denied a previous spot-kick. With only one side guaranteed entry to next January’s tournament in

China and emerging Uzbekistan up next in tomorrow’s Group D-finale, precious points seemed poised to drain away at Al Ain’s Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

Yet a clumsy barge in the back from Cedars defender Khaled Ali on substitute Ali Eid provided Al Attas – scythed down moments earlier by the same player in the box, only for referee Mohammed Al Hoish to wave play on – with an opportunity to strike.

Watched on by note taking senior coach Edgardo Bauza, the 21-year-old Al Jazira starlet stroked the ball low into the bottom corner in the 84th minute for his third goal during two impressive matches.

A draw now against the Uzbeks, who earlier beat minnows Nepal 2-0, will suffice because of their superior goal difference, with defeat still leaving open the possibility of progression as one of five-best runners-up.

The first half was one to forget for Al Wahda playmaker Khalid Bawazir as he spurned a trio of presentable opportunities.

Al Attas then became the key figure. A low shot was well saved by goalkeeper Mostafa Matar, before he was fouled without punishment and then remained undaunted to convert the treasured winner.

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