Tough taskmaster Caio Canedo has warned Spain legend Xavi’s Al Sadd that Al Wasl will be the ones who “set the rules” when the teams kick-off their 2018 AFC Champions League commitments.
The Cheetahs are roaring back into Asia’s premier club competition for the first time in a decade. Their berth in Group C was earned via an electric run to runners-up in the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League, fuelled by deadly Brazilian attackers Canedo, Fabio De Lima and Ronaldo Mendes.
Tuesday’s opponents sit second in a tight QNB Stars League. They also boast superior pedigree on the continent, although the 2011 winners’ 11th entrance ends a run of back-to-back play-off defeats – 2016’s coming in Abu Dhabi against Al Jazira.
For Canedo, reputations will count for nothing at Zabeel Stadium.
“We play at home and we are going to fight, equal to equal,” said the 27-year-old, who has 12 goals in 15 top-flight matches this term. “Every time we play at home, we always aim for three points.
“In my house, I set the rules. My team has to start off with three points.
“It’s our house, we have to play to win. That’s it, we set the rules.”
As always, Wasl – who are winless in their last two matches – will look to Rodolfo Arruabarrena for guidance. He scored key goals when Spain’s Villarreal reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2005/06, won the Copa Libertadores at Boca Juniors in 2000 and later guided the Argentines as coach to 2015’s round of 16.
He said: “It is my first time in this competition, although as a player I played in the Champions League in Europe. I always say my experiences as a player, I don’t care.
“The other team has more experience, they usually player year by year. They have important players like Xavi and players who played in the Spanish leagues.
“We hope to do the match we want and things we prepared. It is a very important day for the club, players and the staff, as for several years we haven’t played this competition.”
Elsewhere in the pool, Persian Gulf Pro League holders Persepolis host Uzbekistan Super League runners-up Nasaf.
Here, we examine the standout performers:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Otabek Shukurov (Sharjah)
Uzbekistan royalty has been procured by the King.
Shukurov, 22, helped corral a Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club midfield that contained UAE internationals Habib Fardan and Khamis Esmail, before showing superb energy deep into injury time to drive into the box and earn the match-winning penalty.
Sharjah’s work in the market has had more hits than misses in recent years. Their January buy looks to be in the former category.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Hassan Mohammed (Al Wasl)
Vital points appeared set to drain down the gutter as the Cheetahs went about chasing down Al Jazira’s 1-0 half-time lead.
Their cause appeared utterly forlorn as suspended 12-goal striker Caio Canedo watched on from the stands at Zabeel Satdium.
Mohammed had looked every inch the stand-in, that is until a moment of inspiration came in the 85th minute. He athletically sprung into the air and directed a perfect header into the far corner, for his first league goal this term.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Gjoko Hadzievski (Al Dhafra)
For the first time since September 21’s second round of top-flight fixtures, the Western Knights have the sweet feeling of success.
This was a clutch match for Hadzievski, defeat to fellow strugglers Dibba Al Fujairah not worth countenancing.
Instead, goals from UAE reserve striker Saeed Al Kathiri – via a poor defensive header – and Uzbekistan forward Igor Sergeev provided hope.
This win also saw them escape the foot of the table.
Who knows where the Shabab Al Ahli experiment is headed?
Teething problems for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club continue to bite, more than eight months since May’s tumultuous merger.
A team packed full of UAE internationals are 18 points off the pace, disillusionment in the stands against Sharjah saw a banner unfurled asking for clarity from club management and rumours swirl about a return to the separate entities.
This confusion is not helping anyone at Rashid Stadium.
Ex-Real Madrid, Internazionale and Galatasaray attacking midfielder Sneijder, 33, represents the headline attraction in the capital for the visit of Qatar’s Al Gharafa as Group A in the 2018 AFC Champions League gets off to a glamourous start.
This meeting in a Middle East-outpost is a world away from when the celebrated pair were just teenagers in Amsterdam’s fabled Ajax Youth Academy.
Boussoufa, also 33, has gone on to make more than 350 professional appearances for the likes of Anderlecht, Anzhi Makhachkala and Arabian Gulf League champions Jazira, plus has a spot at this summer’s World Cup with Morocco in his sights. The chance to welcome a familiar face is one he intends to embrace on Monday.
“I played Wesley last season with the national team [Netherlands won a friendly 2-1 in Agadir on May 31, 2007] and it will be nice, I’ve known Wesley since I was 13-years old,” said Boussoufa in the wake of the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s 1-1 draw at Al Wasl in the top flight on Wednesday. “We were both in the academy [at Ajax] and he was around my age.
“It will be nice to see him. Of course, he has done very well for himself.
“I hope he is enjoying himself.”
Boussoufa has had little opportunity for “enjoying himself” during a trying title defence for Jazira.
Institutional disorder has seen coveted UAE striker Ahmed Khalil and ex-France anchorman – plus his team-mate from Anzhi and Lokomotiv Moscow – Lassana Diarra arrive last summer and exit this winter.
A rousing fourth-place finish at December’s Club World Cup on home soil helped lift spirits, yet the midweek stalemate at Wasl means the holders are a colossal 16 points off the pace.
Boussoufa could not deny the draining impact of the off-field distractions.
He said: “There are too many things going on – maybe, too many things. But okay, we are professional players. This year, we did very well at the Club World Cup.
“Not as well in the competition [AGL], but that is normal as it is always difficult to follow up one championship with another.
“That is unless you are the Chicago Bulls – and we are not.”
Jazira will hope to make the Arabian Gulf Cup’s semi-finals when they play Dibba Al Fujairah on Thursday.