Al Wasl woes won't distract Shabab Al Ahli boss Mahdi Ali in Arabian Gulf Cup semi-finals

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Al Wasl forward Fabio De Lima in action against Arabian Gulf Cup semi-final opponents Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club (PLC).

Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club coach Mahdi Ali has not been lulled into a false sense of security by the recent travails of Arabian Gulf Cup semi-final opponents Al Wasl, as he looks to claim silverware from a trying inaugural campaign.

Teething problems have defined the club’s painful situation since May’s shock merger of Al Shabab, last term’s Cup winners Al Ahli and promoted Dubai CSC. They now have a chance to earn a shot at glory from Friday over two legs against the Cheetahs who once looked bound for an incredible 2017/18, but have lost their last four games in the Arabian Gulf League and AFC Champions League.

“Our players will not be fooled by the negative results of Al Wasl recently, and will be focused on achieving a positive result,” said ex-UAE tactician Ali, whose troops sit a distant sixth in the top flight after a string of injuries and call-ups to national service.

“I have great confidence in the players and their ability to manage the game.”

Prolific Senegalese centre forward Makhete Diop and UAE full-back Abdelaziz Sanqour head a list of seven major absentees.

Meanwhile, opposite number Rodolfo Arruabarrena is determined to end his storied club’s long trophy drought.

Wasl were the UAE’s dominant club of the 1980s, but last lifted the 2009/10 GCC Champions League.

Arruabarrena said: “I know how much the fans want to win this title.

“The league has been 99 per cent decided, so in the coming period we will strive to get into at least one cup final.”

Wasl are certain to be without banned 12-goal striker Caio Canedo. They can gain confidence from the fact when the teams last met on December 8 in the AGL, they earned a dominant 3-0 victory.

AL WAHDA v DIBBA AL FUJAIRAH

Al Wahda will not struggle for motivation when they scrap for a spot in the Arabian Gulf Cup’s final against Dibba Al Fujairah, according to coach Laurentiu Reghecampf.

The 2015/16 winners will be overwhelming favourites on Friday against minnows who have never got this far before and have battled relegation all season. Their only worry is the comedown from last week’s 6-2 thrashing in the Arabian Gulf League-summit meeting at bitter rivals Al Ain.

“We have enough motivation to bypass the Arabian Gulf Cup’ semi-finals and win the title,” said Reghecampf. “But we know the Dibba Al Fujairah game will be difficult.”

Meanwhile, Dibba tactician Paulo Comelli has vowed to go on the front foot against lauded opponents.

A yawning seven places and 19 points separate the combatants in the top flight.

Comelli said: “The game is very important for our team. We have made history with this club by qualifying to this stage and we will try to get as far as possible.”

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Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate rounds on 'really stupid' critics after ACL setback

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Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate (l) during the draw with Tractor Sazi in the 2018 AFC Champions League.

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.

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ACL pain follows domestic joy for Al Ain and other talking points from Esteghlal draw

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Omar Abdulrahman (r) trying to find a way through for Al Ain against Esteghlal in the 2018 AFC Champions League.

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.

Sebastian Tagliabue (c) in action for Al Wahda at Zob Ahan (Twitter/@AlWahdaFCC).

Sebastian Tagliabue (c) in action for Al Wahda at Zob Ahan (Twitter/@AlWahdaFCC).

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