Enraged Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate rounded on the “really stupid” critics who demand he “continuously work miracles” after a squad ravaged by injuries, suspensions and internal problems could only draw 0-0 with Iran’s Tractor Sazi in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
Victory was required on Monday by the Pride of Abu Dhabi to strengthen hopes of making the knockout rounds for the first time since 2004. But they could not find a way past struggling opponents, who came in without a goal or point from Group A.
“We are disappointed, of course,” said the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant, who has claimed the 2016 President’s Cup and 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League at Jazira. “I thought we would take three points.
“We had too many players not really in the game. That is why we didn’t win – it is very frustrating.
“On the other hand, given the circumstances with players available, I think it is a good result. We cannot continuously work miracles.
“People on television say I constantly change as I want to leave the club. This is not true.
“I have to work with the material I have available.
“If you are paid to be on television to give your opinion, maybe you should follow the club your opinion is about. Then you will realise your remarks are really stupid.
“We do everything possible to win games and get the best team on the field. Unfortunately due to different circumstances, and I don’t want to mention them again, we cannot always win.
“I am really, really angry about this. I gave this club two-and-a-half years of my life.”
Ahead of next Tuesday’s reverse fixture in Tabriz, Jazira sit second in their pool. They are level on four points with Wesley Sneijder’s Al Gharafa, whom they beat last month to end a 15-match winless streak in the competition.
It looks likely to be a shootout between those two sides – who meet in Doha on April 3 – to progress, alongside leaders Al Ahli Jeddah of Saudi Arabia.
Al Ain’s 2018 AFC Champions League-campaign is yet to receive ignition after a rollercoaster 2-2 draw with their former coach Winfried Schafer’s Esteghlal.
The Persian Gulf Pro League-giants raced into the lead on 52 minutes when ex-Juventus and Internazionale forward Mame Thiam converted winger Farshid Esmaeili’s centre. Sweden centre forward Marcus Berg soon responded with a fine volley, before a double save by Hossein Hosseini denied him from the penalty spot.
Schafer’s troops raced up the other end and the same duo combined to make it 2-1. A ruinous Group D-defeat seemed likely, only for substitute Ahmed Khalil to calmly convert a penalty he contentiously won close to the 90-minute mark and make it three stalemates from three games.
Domestic joy, Asian pain
Al Ain should have charged into this match in the wake of a 6-2 dismantling of Al Wahda which has put them on course for Arabian Gulf League-glory.
Yet a change of competition led to a change of approach. An uncharacteristic reticence defined them.
An average of 10 points has been needed to claim second in their groups since 2013’s last failure. They now must be almost perfect, beginning with next Tuesday’s return.
Mamic’s new main man
Coach Zoran Mamic was again required to be tactically nimble.
The ex-Croatia international surprisingly loaded Al Ain with attackers for the preceding 2-2 draw with Qatar’s Al Rayyan. This time, his decision to take off recovering UAE centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman and unleash emerging Egypt star Hussein El Shahat from his right-back berth spoke volumes.
The Boss no longer work around 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman. Little surprise after a staccato season.
El Shahat then set up Berg and won the first penalty. He is the Boss’ new centrepiece.
UAE misery continues
Judging purely on this year’s nascent ACL, you’d never know the UAE’s top flight has been ranked Asia’s best by the AFC since 2014.
From 12 group-stage matches, their entrants have won just one – Al Jazira’s opening triumph against Qatar’s Al Gharafa in Group A.
Al Wasl and Al Wahda are pointless, Jazira and Al Ain are struggling to fly the flag. They must step it up.
Zob Ahan 2-0 Al Wahda
A double from Zob Ahan forward Morteza Tabrizi ensured Al Wahda’s miserable 2018 AFC Champions League-campaign continued with a third-successive loss.
The Clarets conceded goals in both halves to the 2010 runners-up to remain bottom of Group B. Tabrizi headed the Persian Gulf Pro League-outfit ahead on 34 minutes after a lively start at Foolad Shahr Stadium.
The hosts then wrapped up the points in the 72nd minute when a combination of poor defending and flimsy goalkeeping allowed Tabrizi to get his third goal of 2018.
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.