Coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena is confident the Al Wasl supporters “know very well” he’s trying everything possible to end a wretched run ahead of Thursday’s Arabian Gulf Cup semi-final decider against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
A season that once held great promise has disintegrated for the Cheetahs thanks to winning just one of their last 11 matches in all competitions. This worrying spell included a goalless draw at Rashid Stadium as they attempt to win a first trophy in eight years.
“We work hard for the team, we always criticise ourselves,” said Arruabarrena.
“The Al Wasl fans know very well that we have been doing our best for a year and a half and that we are not wasting anything on the team. In this period, we will do our utmost to achieve a trophy.”
Opponents Shabab Al Ahli have endured a trying debut campaign after last May’s merger.
In a former guise as Al Ahli, they are the AG Cup’s holders. Current leader Mahdi Ali hoped to spring a surprise.
He said: “Al Wasl is a good team, they have players and a coach at high level coach.
“In cup games, there are always surprises.”
In the day’s other tie, 2015/16 winners Al Wahda hold a commanding 4-2 advantage when they travel to Dibba Al Fujairah.
Despite this, and a 22-point gap in the Arabian Gulf League, boss Laurentiu Reghecampf is taking nothing for granted.
He said: “We have to respect the capabilities of the opposing team. We know that the game will be difficult and we will seek to win.”
Dibba have never won a major trophy and this is the farthest they’ve ever gone in the AG Cup.
Coach Paulo Comelli’s belief in a marquee result remained intact.
He said: “We know that this game represents a special task. Al Wahda is strong.
“I have high confidence in my team. My trust in them is never shaken.”
The UAE will attempt to ignore the controversy caused by the exiles of star pair Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout when they kick-off their 2018 King’s Cup campaign against Slovakia on Thursday.
Here are the major talking points for the match in Thailand:
A NEW CORONATION
Ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni cannot be accused of dodging major decisions.
His personal choice to abandon 2016 AFC Player of the Year Abdulrahman and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Mabkhout risks further poor results in the first games since they broke curfew before the Gulf Cup final loss to Oman in early January.
Zaccheroni attempted to downplay their exclusions, saying in Bangkok on Wednesday: “There is nothing to worry about the lack of two players.”
It will be interesting to see how long this stance holds ahead of January 2019’s Asian Cup on home soil. Especially if emerging attackers Rayan Yaslam, Jassem Yaqoub and Ahmed Al Attas don’t grasp opportunities to shine in two fixtures this week.
CAN ZACCHERONI CONVINCE?
The UAE have been a tough watch under Zaccheroni.
After a failed third round of World Cup 2018 qualifying under predecessors Mahdi Ali and Edgardo Bauza that saw 13 goals conceded in 10 games, he’s targeted defence as an area of improvement since his appointment in October.
The introduction of his trademark 3-4-2-1 formation saw zero goals conceded at the Gulf Cup. But they only found the back of the net once in five miserly games in Kuwait, through Mabkhout’s opening Group A penalty against Oman.
Captain Ali Khaseif moved to quell serious rumblings of discontent. He said: “The coach cannot be judged at the moment and a strong defence starts us in the right way.”
BOX OFFICE WORRIES
The King’s Cup is one of the most-important annual events on the Thai football calendar.
Unfortunately, a serious talent drain has been witnessed in 2018.
Rajamangala National Stadium will not rock to Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik after he was injured in Napoli’s 1-0 win against Genoa on Sunday, while the death of Arsenal superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s grandmother has seen him stay in Europe. This followed Abdulrahman’s and Mabkhout’s absences.
The hosts will now embrace watching diminutive playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin. His progress has kicked up a notch on loan at J1 League’s Consadole Sapporo.
El Shahat, 25, has proved a revelation at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium since he was snapped up on a six-month loan from Misr lel-Makkasa in January for $500,000. An exceptional seven goals and 12 assists have since been registered in 12 appearances across all competitions.
After they failed to include a buyout clause in the original deal, the Boss had been locked in talks to see off widespread interest from the likes of Cairo giants Al Ahly, Turkey’s Besiktas plus a host of clubs throughout the Arabian Gulf.
Such stellar form also saw him named by Pharaohs manager Hector Cuper for this month’s friendlies against Portugal and Greece. When training with his international team-mates in a freezing Switzerland on Tuesday night, an announcement was made by an exuberant Al Ain about their sealing of a deal until 2021 for a transfer fee of Dh11 million.
“I would like to thank coach Zoran Mamic, the management team and my colleagues for the excellent and stimulating atmosphere within the team,” said El Shahat, who has recovered from a slight injury sustained in Saturday’s 3-2 win at Al Jazira.
In addition to making a late charge for Egypt’s squad for Russia, El Shahat is also concentrating on a decisive part of Al Ain’s campaign.
They hold a four-point advantage in the top flight, remain in the President’s Cup and are in a tight Group D in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
El Shahat wanted to guarantee his new employers experience a memorable 50-year anniversary.
He said: “I have to show my best in order to achieve local and continental titles, in conjunction with this great club’s golden jubilee.”