Optimistic boss Mahdi Ali is convinced Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s trying inaugural season can still reap a first piece of silverware.
May’s merger has been anything but a runaway success. A draining run of draws saw coach Cosmin Olaroiu get sacked in December, with replacement Ali not faring much better.
A shot at redemption comes on Thursday night in the Arabian Gulf Cup quarter-final decider against struggling Hatta.
“Our ambition is to compete for the remaining two titles, and we have great hope of winning one of them,” said Ali, whose charges hold a commanding 3-0 advantage.
“The team has many imperfections and there is the possibility of giving some players a chance.”
Dibba Al Fujairah possess a 3-1 lead against an Al Jazira side riding high after Monday’s winning start against Qatar’s Al Gharafa in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
This is a factor which worries Fishermen coach Paulo Comelli.
He said: “Al Jazira is a big team.
“After winning in Asia, they will also be full of confidence.”
A Bur Dubai-derby kicks-off Friday’s final clashes. December’s opener at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium ended in a 2-2 draw, but it’s been all change for Al Nasr since.
Ex-Italy tactician Cesare Prandelli was sacked in January, a decision to rehire Serbian Ivan Jovanovic seeing a perfect three wins recorded from three matches.
“The morale of the players is high,” said Lebanon centre-back Joan Oumari. “In the dressing room, we all agreed to fight.”
Al Wahda beat Al Ain 2-1 in the opener, but both now possess different distractions.
The Boss are gunning for domestic and continental glory, while Wahda are likely to continue concentrating on the top flight – a weakened side went down 5-0 at Lokomotiv Tashkent in the ACL.
Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima’s sensational curled strike in the 26th minute saw the Cheetahs look poised to celebrate an enlivening victory against Qatar’s Al Sadd upon the end of their 10-year wait to play in Asia’s elite club competition. But the introduction of Baghdad Bounedjah off the substitute’s bench turned the Group C opener around, the Algeria centre forward decisively completing his brace on the stroke of second-half injury-time.
This reversal saw the devastated Cheetahs exit Zabeel Stadium with tails between their legs.
For ex-Argentina left-back Arruabarrena, his troops must instantly snap out of this slump with the next 10 days witnessing Friday’s decider against Bur Dubai rivals Al Nasr for a spot in the Arabian Gulf Cup’s semi-finals, Tuesday’s second continental date at Uzbekistan’s Nasaf and next weekend’s resumption of their Arabian Gulf League title push at lowly Dibba Al Fujairah.
He said: “When we fall, we have to stand back up again.
“After the League Cup we play in the Champions League again, and then the Arabian Gulf League continues, but like I said, we will learn because for almost all of us, this was our first time playing here [ACL].”
A lack of experience was a major concern for the ex-Boca Juniors player and tactician. Sadd are two-time Asian kings, boast Spain icon Xavi in their ranks and hot prospects such as Akram Afif have been plying their trade in Europe.
“We made a good first half but in the second we lost possession, made two mistakes and lost the game,” said Arruabarrena.
“From the beginning we said they were more experienced than us and had different players.
“For almost all our players this is the first time they have played in this competition, but they will learn from playing the best teams in Asia. We do not have too many players, but this is not the moment to speak.”
Wasl will need to avoid defeat at Nasaf’s Qarshi Markazi Stadium to boost hopes of avoiding a repeat of 2008’s group-stage elimination.
With each passing performance, evidence grows that Al Jazira have mined another source of Asian football’s rarest commodity – a home-grown goal scorer.
In a 2018 AFC Champions League-opener against Qatar’s Al Gharafa that featured Netherlands superstar Wesley Sneijder, 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout of the UAE and prolific Iran centre forward Mehdi Taremi, 22-year-old forward Ahmed Al Attas provided the star turn.
Bursting with confidence imbued by reaching a career-best tally of five strikes in 11 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League games, a bouncing ball 40 yards out was met with a ferocious half-volley to make it 3-1 to the committed Pride of Abu Dhabi in Monday’s eventual 3-2 win.
A breakthrough season had its landmark moment. Now, it is up to both player and country to ensure his precipitous trajectory extends to being a weapon of mass destruction at January 2019’s Asian Cup.
The UAE are unique among Asian nations in being blessed with two proven, elite strikers in Mabkhout and 2015 AFC Player of the Year, Ahmed Khalil. A third option isn’t being greedy – it could be the difference between failure or success next year on home soil.
Yet, the coming man has been overlooked throughout Alberto Zaccheroni’s four-month Whites tenure. This cannot continue.
Always respected for his work-rate and technical acumen, question marks had existed about whether a ruthless edge could be added to Al Attas’ play.
This worry is repeated across a continent in which prolific, indigenous marksman are few and far between.
Shanghai SIPG forward Wu Lei notched 11 more times than his nearest compatriot in the 2017 Chinese Super League and Al Nassr’s Mohammad Al Sahlawi is back among the goals in the 2017/18 Saudi Professional League after two miserable campaigns. The top-scoring Australian in the ongoing A-League, Newcastle Jets’ Andrew Nabbout, has less than half the tally of Sydney FC’s 20-goal Bobo.
Al Attas had struck only seven goals in 34 AGL matches from 2013/14-2016/17.
But a growing importance is detailed by the fact his nine 2017/18 starts is one more than he had totalled throughout the previous period (eight) in its entirety.
His marked improvement is a credit to himself and his club. Now, it’s time for the UAE to bear the fruits of this labour.