Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is sure 'fighting spirit' stopped an Asian upset

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The Al Ain players before Tuesday's game against Malkiya.

Al Ain tactician Zoran Mamic was pleased to see the “fighting spirit” needed to avoid 2018 AFC Champions League heartbreak against Bahrain’s Malkiya.

The 2002/03 winners are braced for another tilt at continental glory after second-half goals from Marcus Berg and Caio secured a 2-0 play-off win. Their Croatian coach had expressed worries about preparations in the build-up and he was happy to see these prove unfounded.

Mamic said: “I asked the players to show  fighting spirit and seriousness of their football.

“If you do not play in the right image, it may expose some of the problems.”

Now a spot in Group D is secured, the Arabian Gulf League leaders play promoted Ajman on Saturday.

UAE internationals Omar Abdulrahman and Ahmed Barman are serious doubts after they came off injured on Tuesday.

“Amoory and Ahmed Barman are in need of tests to find out the details and the time needed for both to return. I hope they return quickly to the team,” said Mamic.

WEST ASIA GROUPS-NEW

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Stagnating Al Ain star Omar Abdulrahman must listen to Zoran Mamic's words

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Omar Abdulrahman played poorly against Malkiya (Al Ain).

Omar Abdulrahman’s cloying comfort zone in Al Ain has, belatedly, became a little less snug.

The feted ‘Amoory’, crown prince of UAE football and indulged to a fault for all his past achievements, received the rarest of things on Tuesday night – a public rebuke.

Grizzled coach Zoran Mamic could not hold his tongue. The AFC had played to the grandstands and given the continent’s golden boy the man-of-the-match honours, despite a fitful display in the 2-0 Champions League play-off victory against Bahraini Premier League champions Malkiya.

“‘Amoory’ is a very-important player, but he did not make a good match,” said the grizzled ex-Croatia international after a display in which his underwhelming prized asset registered pass accuracy of 74.4 per cent and apathetically devolved his creative duties to Egypt’s excellent Hussein El Shahat.

“He made mistakes in many passes, wasted a lot of opportunities. Not good for Asian football.”

Not since being in the care of Cosmin Olaroiu from 2011-13 has such stark honesty been applied to a playmaker who has chosen to coast in his UAE bubble, rather than maximise his preternatural gifts.

‘Amoory’s’ incredible eight man-of-the-match gongs on the way to defeat in the 2016 final were richly deserved, as was his coronation as that year’s AFC Player of the Year.

Since then, both the statistics and the naked eye point to a rare talent stagnating. He was peripheral during much of the UAE’s failed World Cup 2018 qualification, letting now Al Ain team-mate Ahmed Khalil carry the attacking burden.

In the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League, he registered the equal-second-most assists with 10. But an average of one every 192.9 minutes is hardly redolent of his ability.

This is also down on 2013/14 (16) and 2015/16 (12) – much of 2014/15 was a washout with injury. Since yet another summer move to Europe came to nought, this time the exasperated pursuers were Ligue 1’s Nice, he’s coasted through this term.

His ongoing domestic ban for breaking curfew the night before the Gulf Cup final is hotly disputed. What is not in question is the fact suspect preparations were followed by defeat on January 5 to minnows Oman, in which he horrifically missed two clutch penalties.

It has come to a point where ‘Amoory’ can be accused of living on reputation, his adoring public now treated to tantalising flashes of supreme talent.

Mamic’s pointed words must be heeded. A man previously tapped into the gold mine at Dinamo Zagreb knows what he is talking about.

Watch back Abdulrahman’s global breakout performances at the London 2012 Olympics. You’d think, at 26, he’d be breaking new ground at a European club.

It is sad to see what he’s become.

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Ivan Jovanovic expects easy return for Al Nasr in Arabian Gulf League

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Ivan Jovanovic (r) is settling back in at Al Nasr (Al Nasr).

Ivan Jovanovic is predicting a seamless return to the Al Nasr dugout on Tuesday when his charges host floundering Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira.

Jovanovic, 55, inked a deal until 2018/19 last week to replace dismissed ex-Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. The Blue Wave sacked the aforementioned Serb in October 2016 when his trophy-laden, three-and-a-half-year reign unravelled at alarming pace.

“You cannot overlook the impact and difficulty of making a technical change in mid-season on the players, because each coach has his own way and training style,” said Jovanovic. “But these problems will not affect us, as I am not a stranger to this team.”

An extensive list is hampering Jovanovic’s hopes of a winning return. These include unfortunate striker Wanderley, ex-Jazira midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada and occasional UAE call-up Fawaz Awana.

They face opponents for whom off-field problems have bled onto the pitch. Their last two results were a 2-0 reversal to Al Wahda in the Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup, while minnows Dibba Al Fujairah fought back from two-goals down in the last 10 minutes to draw in the top flight.

Meanwhile, Dibba coach Paulo Comeli has consigned previous success against promoted Ajman to “the past” as he prepares for a relegation six-pointer.

A double from the now-released Brazilian forward Ciel earned a 2-0 triumph in September. With both sides a handful of points outside the drop zone, the Fishermen supremo is not taking repeat success for granted.

He said: “The previous result is in the past now and Ajman are much stronger.”

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