Al Wasl and UAE defensive midfielder Ali Salmeen is insistent his club are not feeling the pressure of their do-or-die 2018 AFC Champions League clash against Iran behemoth’s Persepolis.
Tuesday’s hosts in Dubai have lost all three Group C matches – including a 2-0 defeat in last week’s reverse game – to make it a painful return to Asia’s top table after a decade away.
They must avoid another defeat to the dominant Persian Gulf Pro League holders and last year’s continental semi-finalists to keep dreams of progression to the round of 16 on life support, with hopes further addled by a crash in form that leaves them winless in five matches from all competitions.
“I don’t have pressure,” said 23-year-old midfielder Salmeen. “I trust and believe in my team to make a great match and win the three points, because we know this is our last hope to qualify for the second-round matches.
“There is 90 minutes and we have to fight and win.”
Opponents Persepolis sit top of a tight pool in which themselves, Xavi’s Al Sadd and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf possess six points to Wasl’s zero.
Their ex-Al Wahda boss Branko Ivankovic, 64, is determined to earn another shot at ACL glory.
He said: “It was a great honour to reach the semi-finals in Asia last year. We will definitely try to get out of the group stage – and not stop there.
“Al Wasl are a big team and I think they have the best organisation among UAE teams. They have fought to be champions of the UAE.”
Wasl’s descent threatens both their current Asian prospects and hopes of qualifying next year through the Arabian Gulf League.
Tactician Rodolfo Arruabarrena blamed the draining effects of injuries that have afflicted the likes of 12-goal striker Caio Canedo.
He said: “Although we are last in the group, mathematically we can still do a good job and it is possible to progress. But we also have so many injuries, which makes problems for our team to make up the deficit.
“As a coach, I have to choose which competitions we have the best chance in.”
Tractor Sazi v Al Jazira
Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate has urged his depleted attack not to spurn any chances as they gun for a vital victory at scoreless Iran strugglers Tractor Sazi.
A lengthy list of absentees for Group A’s second-placed side in the 2018 AFC Champions League features UAE hot shots Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Al Attas.
“I hope we are good tomorrow and take advantage of any opportunities,” said boss Ten Cate about the trip to bottom-placed opponents. “A positive result will enhance our chances of qualifying for the next phase.”
While Al Wahda reached the doorstep of the Arabian Gulf Cup final by trashing Dibba Al Fujairah 4-2, Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai lived to fight another day after a goalless draw in their first leg semi-final on Friday.
Those in attendance at Rashid Stadium were subjected to a match devoid of much action, as neither team pushed the pace until the second half when Shabab Al Ahli Dubai put their foot on the gas pedal.
The home side had multiple chances to get out on the front foot, but Saeed Jassem’s header in the 56th minute was stopped by Al Wasl goalkeeper Yousif Al Zaabi, who later stretched for a save on Erceg Ante in the 87th minute to preserve the draw.
The result means the berth for the final will come down to the second leg on March 22.
Al Wahda, meanwhile, are sitting pretty after their goal-fest at Zayed Sports City.
Sebastian Tagliabue netted a hat-trick, with scores in the third, 63rd (penalty) and 81st minutes to power the Clarets to victory.
Diogo da Silva did his part for the visitors by scoring a brace, but Dibba will have their work cut out in the second leg to advance.
A motion has been accepted to impose a near €1 million (Dh4.5m) block on UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s wages, as a dispute between the Italian and a prominent football agent looks set to be resolved in the courtroom in Italy.
Zaccheroni, 64, signed a deal in October until the end of January 2019’s Asian Cup worth €3.6m (Dh16.2m). A disagreement has broken out about the payment of commission earned from the move, which sees the Italian pitted against Pedro Pinto – a representative from Porto whose clients include Paris Saint-Germain’s Unai Emery, Swansea’s Carlos Carvalhal and Espanyol’s Quique Sanchez Flores.
But Zaccheroni and his legal team insist Dubai-based, Iraqi agent Najim Mohammed of Hattrick Sports Services was solely responsible for concluding talks with the UAE Football Association – thus making him the only person eligible for compensation.
A motion to begin civil proceedings about the matter was filed in the first week of February, with leading members of the Emirates governing body asked to travel by the plaintiff – Pinto – and provide evidence. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing in regards to the UAE FA representatives.
A judge in Italy also accepted a request this week to ensure the disputed amount of €975,000 (Dh4.4m) would be taken from Zaccheroni’s remuneration and placed into a holding account controlled by the Italian courts until a decision is reached on the case.
“In September 2017, Mr Zaccheroni sent me a letter of interest to be UAE national team head coach,” said Pinto, whose claim totals compensation and damages suffered.
“Subsequently and still in September, he gave me an exclusive mandate to negotiate the post.”
Mr Pinto claims Mr Zaccheroni ignored signed documents and closed the deal without him. Pinto says he tried to reach Zaccheroni’s lawyer but without success and then raised the lawsuit in Italy.
This position is explicitly rejected by Zaccheroni’s legal representative – who has until the end of May to submit a reply to the writ of summons – Luca Ferrari, head of sports for Withers LLP law firm.
He said: “Unfortunately it is not unusual to have to deal with unwarranted claims in football but any claimant would be well offside here, because the whole transaction has been straightforwardly handled with the UAE FA.”
The UAE FA has not commented on the matter.
Pinto has insisted that an exclusive mandate signed on September 28 by the ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician contracted him to handle negotiations with the Emirati governing body to be the replacement for Edgardo Bauza, after his defection to Saudi Arabia. UAE-based businessman Karim Mubaret would later be involved.
A letter of notification about the civil proceedings was sent out to Zaccheroni’s representative on February 6.
Correspondence has been ongoing in recent weeks between the two parties.
Zaccheroni has been tasked with making the final of next year’s Asian Cup, on home soil.
His tenure has included a miserly performance at the Gulf Cup, where one goal was scored on the way to shock defeat in a penalty shootout to minnows Oman during January 5’s final in Kuwait City.