Henk ten Cate is without a slew of stars as two teams meet in Round 3 of the Arabian Gulf Cup hoping to ignite their campaigns.
UAE giants Al Jazira and Al Nasr are joint top of Group A with a win and a draw from their opening two fixtures, yet they have struggled in the league. The Blue Wave are fifth in the Arabian Gulf League with champions Jazira sixth – both sides trailing in the wake of early-season pacesetters Al Wasl and Al Ain.
Both teams have players unavailable due to the national team’s friendly with Haiti on the same evening in Al Ain, but Ten Cate is proud of his young starlets who have been picked in new Whites coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s maiden squad.
Ahmed Al Attas, Mohammed Jamal and Khalafan Mubarak could feature in the Garden City, while Jazira stalwarts Ali Khasif, Fares Juma and Mohamed Fawzi are also part of former Japan and AC Milan coach Zaccheroni’s plans.
Ali Mabkhout, however, could feature for the Pride of Abu Dhabi after returning to his club to continue treatment that saw him only return to action in last week’s goalless AGL draw with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club after almost a month on the sidelines.
“Our preparation for the next game is a little different because we miss several players, most notably Mbarak Boussoufa, Ali Khasif, Fares Juma, Mohamed Fawzi, Mohamed Jamal, Khalfan Mubarak and Ahmed Al Attas for international calls,” said former Ajax coach Ten Cate.
“Ali Mabkhout has joined the team training after the UAE national team allowed him to leave the camp in Al Ain to complete the treatment programme he started with us.”
He praised the progress of young trio Mubarak, Jamal and Al Attas, as well as emerging youngsters at the club.
“I have always been given opportunities to Ahmed, Mohammed and Khalafan,” he added.
“They are now in the UAE national team. I am also happy with the great development of Mohammed Al Attas, Salem Al Eedi and Eissa Al Otaiba this season and I will give them more opportunities in the future because they deserve it and because they need more experience and maturity.”
Despite their early season AGL struggles, both sides have found solace in the League Cup, and will hope to gain three points that would send them clear at the top of the group, while piling the misery on the team and coach that loses at Zabeel Stadium.
“We have already faced Al Ain in this competition and we won against them despite the big absences in the squad, so I am not worried about my team’s readiness to face Al Nasr,” Ten Cate added of a 2-1 win earned in Round 2 that halted a two-game losing sequence.
“I am confident that the players who will be selected for the match will use the opportunity in the best possible way, and will face the opponent in a spirit of combat to achieve the desired result.”
Cesare Prandelli’s side, meanwhile, disposed of Ajman 3-0 in the Italian’s first game in charge of the Blue Wave in September before being held to a goalless draw at Hatta last month.
Prandelli also must deal with the absence of national team players, including Tariq Ahmed and Mahmoud Khamis, but he congratulated Khalifa Mubarak and Jassim Yaqoub on their call-ups into the Whites squad to face Haiti and Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
for inviting them to the national team which also includes Tariq Ahmed and Mahmoud Khamis in preparation for the friendly and friendly matches of Haiti and Uzbekistan, stressing that this is a certificate of confidence and success for all employees within Al-Nasr football system.
“We are still suffering from injuries and absences, which always deprive us, but we will continue to work with new ideas and prepare more than one alternative in case of emergency,” said the former Italy coach, who will also be without Joan Oumari, while Salem Saleh and summer signing Marcelo Cirino, Masoud Sulaiman and Mubarak Saeed all face late fitness tests.
“I’m here to work for a two-year project and I’m looking to find factors that are always motivating players to develop their performance and reach the top of technical and physical readiness,” he added. “Everyone here is working hard to reach their goal.”
Elsewhere in Group A on Friday, Hatta, in third, will look to steal a march into the top two, when they go to Hatta, a place below them.
In Group B, meanwhile, Emirates Club will hope to leapfrog Dibba Al Fujairah into second place with victory in Ras Al Khaimah.
Damir Krznar felt Al Ain had fortune on their side as Mohamed Ahmed’s superb late goal earned a 1-0 win in the top of the table clash with Al Wahda.
Al Clasico is one of the most famous rivalries in the UAE and it certainly lived up to expectation, with 10,958 fans packed into Al Nahyan Stadium on Saturday night and providing a boisterous atmosphere.
In a tense battle on the field, it always felt like something special would be required to win it, and so it proved. UAE international right-back Ahmed cut out a sloppy cross-field pass from Mourad Batna with eight minutes to go and ran 70 yards before stylishly slotting home the winner past Clarets stopper Mohamed Al Shamsi with his left-foot.
Wahda right-back Mohamed Al Menhali had an opportunity to imitate Ahmed but his late effort crashed off the underside of the crossbar as the Boss held on amid intense late home pressure.
Al Ain assistant Krznar felt the result could have gone either way.
“I think this match was a real derby, a Clasico like you want to say,” said Krznar, the former Dinamo Zagreb and once-capped Croatia left-back.
“I think Al Ain scored because we were maybe a little bit luckier. It could have been 0-0, Wahda could have won. We had luck today, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.
“By lucky I also mean we had good effort, good will, good strength. It was very similar from both sides. Today everything goes on our side, but of course it could have been different.”
The visitors were without suspended strikers Marcus Berg and Douglas as well as UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem, while head coach Zoran Mamic had been banished to the stands for five matches following his outburst at the officials following last week’s 3-3 home draw with Sharjah.
Talisman Omar Abdulrhman featured, but it was his first game back after two months on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
But Krznar said the players have no problems motivating themselves for the big games.
“Our team and players never have a problem with the bigger games, we usually are not so good in the smaller games,” he said.
“We are always good in the derby matches and it was a good day for us. We know we missed three or four players. The result was primary, not the beauty of our play, but in the end we play nice and we win.”
Goals remain a precious commodity for champions Al Jazira and merged superpower Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, Friday night’s scoreless stalemate seeing more ground ceded in the Arabian Gulf League’s title race.
With each dead end found and wayward ball sent up from midfield, further evidence mounted that neither can hope to live with vivid leaders Al Wasl.
In 90 stodgy minutes at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, underwhelming Brazilian forward Romarinho shot straight at UAE No1 Majed Nasser at the start of the second half for the hosts and Makhete Diop sent a series of hopeful headers over at the other end. Not good enough for teams of such collective talent.
In a repeat of the recent dour clash with Wasl, the home side’s problems were predictable. UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout was only fit enough for a static cameo off the substitutes’ bench and Ahmed Khalil was denied a reunion with his ex-Al Ahli team-mates because of predictable injury.
With little more than a month left until he runs out at the Club World Cup, much more is also required from ineffectual ex-France anchorman Lassana Diarra.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi are already eight points off the pace and appear on course for the sort of miserly title defence last witnessed by – the now defunct – Ahli in 2014/15, whose current guise made it a worrying three 0-0 draws in a row.
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This is a problem that will alarm coach Cosmin Olaroiu. His charges were again unable to find a way through despite boasting a front line of €17 million (Dh70m) record buy Moussa Sow, fellow Senegal international Diop and roving Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor.
This funk cannot be allowed to continue after the international break.
Opportunities were at a premium, Diop and Romarinho going closest. Late drama was provided when Luvannor screamed for a penalty in added time, but a foul was given against him from the collision with centre-back Fares Juma.
Meanwhile, Sharjah escaped from the bottom as Brazilian striker Welliton’s solitary effort against Emirates Club earned a first win of the campaign.
The defeated Falcons were watched on by ex-UAE Under-23 boss Dr Abdullah Misfer. He is a leading contender to takeover permanently following his dismissal by Jordan.