Al Jazira spurned a golden chance to boost hopes of making the AFC Champions League’s knockout stages for the first time in four years with their dreadful goalless draw against struggling Iranians Tractor Sazi.
The understrength hosts at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium had the poor finishing of Ehsan Pahlavan to thank, as opponents who sit bottom of Group A dominated.
Asian dreams slipping away
The constant refrain from Jazira manager Henk ten Cate is how important progress on the continent is during this trying season.
In aid of their successful – and shock – pursuit of last term’s Arabian Gulf League-title, ACL ambitions were sacrificed.
Yet at the halfway stage, advancement is anything but assured. All momentum from their opening success against Wesley Sneijder’s Al Gharafa – a first win in 15 games in the competition – has evaporated with a 2-1 loss at Al Ahli Jeddah and this awful display on Monday night.
Victory is now essential next Tuesday in Tabriz as they desperately hang onto second place.
Mabkhout lets Jazira down
When suspensions, injuries and a season of strife all bite, you need your key men to stand tall.
2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout badly let himself – and his club – down when a booking for dissent post the final whistle ruled him out of the next game.
“He is a role model for young players,” said Ten Cate. “Of course, he is disappointed about what happened after the final whistle.”
With fellow striker Ahmed Al Attas also now banned, a significant game awaits for inconsistent Brazilian Romarinho.
Way off the Mbark
You cannot underestimate the influence of missing Morocco centre midfielder Mbark Boussoufa on the Pride of Abu Dhabi after this turgid encounter.
Suspension ensured the 33-year-old could not be fielded against the Red Wolves. In his absence, panic was induced.
UAE prospect Mohamed Jamal wilted without his experienced partner. His woeful pass to attacker Ahmed Al Attas that ruined a promising counter past the 90-minute mark summed up his loose display.
Persepolis 2-0 Al Wasl
Al Wasl are almost eliminated from the AFC Champions League after a third loss in a row was recorded, this time going down 2-0 at Persian Gulf Pro League holders Persepolis.
A weakened squad was sent to Tehran for this Group B fixture. They performed admirably against strong opponents, who struck both goals just before the interval.
Attacking midfielder Farshad Ahmadzadeh volleyed in a 36th-minute opener. This was soon added to by Red Army striker Ali Alipour’s penalty in front of 33,000 fans.
Asian competition is now key for the Pride of Abu Dhabi after a miserable defence of their Arabian Gulf League-crown. Wesley Sneijder’s Al Gharafa were beaten 3-2 in last month’s enlivening Group A-opener to end a 15-match winless spell on the continent, before a profligate display at Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli Jeddah led to a 2-1 defeat.
A double header against pointless and goalless Iranians Tractor Sazi begins on Monday night at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. Ten Cate urged his second-placed troops to leave nothing on the table.
“Very important for both teams,” said the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant about the clash.
“For us, an important match to keep participating for top spot and for them to stay in the tournament. It will be very tight. I’ve seen them twice, they’re a good team and I think they were unlucky.
“The game in Qatar [versus Gharafa] was amazing as they were better than their opponent and lost 3-0. It was like us, we were the best team there [at Al Ahli] and lost 2-1.”
Jazira’s cause has not been helped by the suspension of influential Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa. They also lost both group games to Tractor in 2016 by a combined score of 5-0.
📸📸— نادي الجزيرة (@AlJazira_uae) March 3, 2018
فخر أبوظبي يواصل تحضيراته لمواجهة تراكتور سازي في #دوري_أبطال_آسيا
حيث يخوض مهمته الوطنية الثالثة في إستاد محمد بن زايد بأبوظبي الاثنين #مع_الفخر_لأجل_الوطن
Training for @TheAFCCL match this Monday in Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium pic.twitter.com/9RAp3HoXit
The Red Wolves travel to Abu Dhabi on the back of their own domestic travails. They currently sit 10th in the Persian Gulf Pro League – a descent from 2017/18’s third.
“It will not be the end [if we don’t win], but it will be really difficult to qualify for the next round,” said coach Ertugrul Saglam, an ex-Turkey international striker.
“We don’t have to win this match, but we have to take four points from these next two games.”
Persepolis v Al Wasl
Persepolis boss Branko Ivankovic has warned pointless Al Wasl they plan to exorcise their pain from derby defeat when the sides meet in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
The Persian Gulf Pro League holders went down 1-0 on Thursday against Esteghlal. They now face a weakened Wasl team in Group C, for whom stars such as Fabio De Lima haven’t travelled.
“It’s natural that failure in a derby is never good,” said ex-Al Wahda boss Ivankovic. “But this game is more important than the derby.”
Thursday’s pulsating summit meeting saw the Boss race into a two-goal lead, before Hungary winger Balazs Dzsudzsak’s pair of long-range drives levelled things up at 2-2. But the UAE’s most-decorated club remained unflustered as they chase a first trophy since
August 2015, a quartet of further strikes following against bedraggled opponents who eventually finished with nine men.
A four-point lead with four games left is significant. Yet, 34-year-old Ahmed knows huge hurdles are left to clear.
“Al Wahda is a great team and we respect this club and its fans,” said the three-time AGL champion.
“Losses in football are always coming, regardless of the outcome of this confrontation. But the most important thing for us was to get the three points and win.
“It is only an important step along the way on our challenge to compete for the title and we still have four matches left. Each one will be more important than the other, so I demand the fans provide greater support in the coming stages.”
Priorities for Zoran Mamic’s men now immediately switch to bringing life into their 2018 AFC Champions League-campaign. Both matches in Group D have been drawn thus far, meaning victory is a must when ex-coach Winfried Schafer brings Iran’s Esteghlal to Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday.
“Winning and losing is normal in the football world,” said Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat, who produced a fine assist for Marcus Berg’s opener versus Wahda and later scored a seventh league goal of a productive mid-season loan from Misr lel-Makkasa.
“We lost in the 17th round to Sharjah and we returned in the last round against Al Wahda, but the most important thing is to always win the three points.
“The fans in the stands gave the players a strong motivation on the pitch to deliver the best performance and I want to give a few words of thanks to the fans of the club.
“The match against Al Wahda is over for us and we are thinking only about facing Esteghlal.”