Coach Zoran Mamic declared his “heart is with Al Ain” when he stirringly moved to dismiss reports of a switch back to Saudi Arabia ahead of Tuesday’s 2018 AFC Champions League-clash with Michael Laudrup’s Al Rayyan.
Mamic, 46, is experiencing a bumper first full season since being controversially poached from Riyadh giants Al Nassr in February 2017.
The ex-Croatia international’s influence leading the Boss to the top of the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League’s standings has attracted covetous eyes from across the border, a dangerous situation with less than six months remaining on his contract.
But he delivered a morale boost on Monday, seemingly committing his long-term future to the club.
“My heart is with Al Ain and I plan to be part of this great club in the next stage,” said Mamic, whose side gained a creditable goalless draw at 2017 runners-up Al Hilal when Group D got under way last week.
“All my focus is on achieving my goals with Al Ain and I have a continuing contract with this club.”
2016 AFC Player Omar Abdulrahman missed the trip to Hilal as he lacked match sharpness, but played in Friday’s 5-1 humiliation at Al Wahda in the Arabian Gulf Cup’s quarter-finals.
Rayyan sit a distant third in the QNB Stars League.
An opening 2-2 draw with Iran’s Esteghlal saw experienced Qatar schemer Rodrigo Tabata score and be sent off.
“The fact is Rayyan has a large squad,” said Mamic.
“The absence of one player won’t affect the team.”
Rayyan lost 5-1 at Wahda in last year’s group stages.
Al Wasl have to cut out their ruinous individual mistakes if they are to stay alive in the 2018 AFC Champions League, according to coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena.
The Cheetahs ended a decade away from Asia’s top table last week in painful fashion, defensive disasters late on against Xavi’s Al Sadd seeing them fall to a 2-1 defeat in Group C.
Their quest continues in chilly Uzbekistan – in the absence of injured star forward Fabio De Lima – on Tuesday when they run-out against Nasaf, who were thrashed 3-0 at Persian Gulf Pro League-holders Persepolis.
“We have a difficult encounter against a strong opponent in the second round of the group stage, especially after the opening loss,” said Arruabarrena.
“The loss in the first game was because of some individual mistakes and we have tried to deal with these mistakes.”
Wasl did not wallow for long. They edged a feisty Bur Dubai-derby against Al Nasr on Friday to make the Arabian Gulf Cup’s semis.
“Winning the derby has given us a strong morale boost,” said Australian midfielder Anthony Caceres.
The four UAE teams enjoyed mixed fortunes when the 2018 AFC Champions League’s group stages began last week.
Here, we assess the situation for round two:
AL WAHDA V AL DUHAIL (18:50, MONDAY)
An enlightening test of the Clarets’ priorities will be on show.
A weakened side got humiliated 5-0 at Lokomotiv Tashkent, yet with their star names back in the fold they humbled rivals Al Ain 5-1 on Friday to reach the Arabian Gulf Cup’s semi-finals. Will their Asian ambitions be sacrificed, once again, versus Al Duhail?
AL AHLI JEDDAH V AL JAZIRA (21:10, MONDAY)
The Pride of Abu Dhabi exited the AG Cup with a whimper last week – a competition coach Henk ten Cate was glad to see the back of.
He is fully committed to the Asian cause, in contrast to last year. Al Ahli Jeddah represent fierce opponents, yet confidence is growing after the opener’s first win in 16 ACL ties.
NASAF V AL WASL (17:00, TUESDAY)
The Cheetahs have been collecting bumps and bruises.
They were emotionally scarred by the late capitulation to Al Sadd when they experienced ACL football for the first time in a decade, while Friday’s AG Cup derby win against rivals Al Nasr was a feisty affair. They must now beat Nasaf to stay in the Asian mix, despite the continued absence of lethal forward Fabio De Lima.
AL AIN V AL RAYYAN (19:10, TUESDAY)
It is a strange time at Al Ain.
They top the Arabian Gulf League and earned a creditable 0-0 draw at Saudi Arabian nemesis Al Hilal last Tuesday, but star man Omar Abdulrahman’s confusing season continued with a poor display in the battering by Wahda.
He and his club must turn it on against Al Rayyan.