Laurentiu Reghecampf does not believe Al Wahda have a hold over Al Wasl going into their President’s Cup semi-final showdown – despite the fact the Clarets have won three of the four encounters between the sides this season.
The most recent and most significant meeting was a 2-1 triumph in the Arabian Gulf Cup final in March for Reghecampf’s men – one that saw them lift a second title in three seasons despite finishing the game with nine men.
Mohammed Al Menhali and Ahmed Rashid both saw red at Rashid Stadium, yet the Clarets clung to a precious victory.
Wahda also swept Wasl aside 3-0 in the group stage of the competition and claimed a thrilling 4-3 league triumph in February – the Cheetahs’ sole win coming in the home league game earlier in the Arabian Gulf League campaign, a 2-1 win in October.
But ahead of the last four tie at newly-crowned AGL champions Al Ain’s Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday, Reghecampf shook off the suggestion that Wahda had become “specialists” in beating Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s side.
“This game will be different and unlike previous ones,” said the Romanian – who is looking to retain the trophy Javier Aguirre claimed in his final match as Wahda coach last season.
The Mexican saw his side brush Al Nasr aside 3-0 in the final before stepping down, with Reghecampf replacing him last summer.
“The superiority of my team over Al Wasl in the previous three consecutive confrontations this season, including the final of Arabian Gulf Cup success, does not mean we’ve become specialists against Al Wasl and that we have the upper hand over them,” added Reghecampf.
“I hope that my team is ready, my players should not rest or rely on the previous results. Al Wasl are a strong team and we respect them very much, and this game requires seriousness and a top performance throughout the 90 minutes.
“Having beaten our competitor recently in three encounters should motivate the players to achieve the fourth win.”
The last four serves up two mouthwatering ties, with 2017/18 AGL champions Al Ain taking on Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club – record 12-time winners of the President’s Cup in their former guise as Al Ahli – at Al Jazira’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in the early kick-off.
“The four teams who qualified for this stage of the competition are the best in the country,” added Reghecampf, who is anticipating an open game between the second and third top scorers in the AGL this term.
“Because of the offensive football the two teams embrace I expect an open game. The two sides will fight hard to conquer the midfield which is the area I believe will be key in trying to achieve a positive result.”
Wasl midfielder Abdullah Al Naqbi, meanwhile, admits he and his team-mates will be out for revenge for their humiliating Arabian Gulf Cup final defeat.
“We are ready for the next game. The team unity is strong and we have to prepare well for the match in which we will seek to compensate for the Arabian Gulf Cup final loss,” said the former Al Dhafra man.
Defeat will be a huge blow to the Cheetahs, who came into this season with so much hope after a fine debut under the tutelage of former Argentina international Arruabarrena – finishing second behind champions Jazira in the league last season.
They were on fire in the first half of this season too, unbeaten in their first 11 games and losing just once in their opening 14. But 2018 has been a disaster. Wasl went winless during February and March – losing four – to fall out of the title race, coupled by their cup final loss to Wednesday’s opponents.
But Al Naqbi hopes his side can end their campaign on a high. “We are at the end of the season and I am seeking to conclude it by becoming President’s Cup champion with Al Wasl because it is an important tournament for us and for the fans that always support us, so we will not relinquish the chance easily,” he said.
Wasl will be without Brazilian forward Ronaldo Mendes after he was sent off in their 2-0 AGL win over Hatta on Friday.
It was a 13th top-flight UAE title overall – extending their record to six over Al Wasl and Al Ahli (now Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club), both of whom have seven titles apiece.
It was a first trophy for Mamic in the Garden City – since he took over from compatriot Zlatko Dalic in January 2017. And it is a triumph that will have given him huge satisfaction and lifted a weighty burden that perhaps has loomed over his tenure so far.
The Boss bossed the AGL from 2012-15, during which they won three of four titles, but they had been left empty-handed the last two years as Ahli and Al Jazira tasted glory.
The 2015 Arabian Gulf Super Cup was the last piece of silverware they claimed in August 2015, and Mamic knows that is too long a gap without success for a club of Al Ain’s stature and history.
“Al Ain is a big club. They need to be champions and winning titles and I am very, very happy. This is what I talked to the players about before the game today,” said Mamic after the Nasr match.
“From the beginning of the season we lose only one match. It’s a problem it’s not a long league, only 22 games, so you cannot make too many mistakes.
“We didn’t do this and at the end I think we deserve to be champions. We show the best football, score the most goals and I am proud of my players and the club. Everybody brings something to the success, down to the people who think about the pitch and our clothes.”
Mamic celebrated winning the AGL crown by dining with friends and family after the match, while he gave his players a day off on Sunday to celebrate a near flawless league campaign.
But they still have the President’s Cup in their sights. They last lifted that in 2013/14 for their sixth title, while defeat to a poor Jazira side two seasons ago will still be on many of the players’ minds.
The Boss are also through to the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League and Mamic insists there won’t be too much rest for anyone.
“We are still not at the end,” he added.
“I told them (before the game) we still have three competitions and we need to be serious and respect all our opponents. Today we can celebrate and be happy, tomorrow we rest and then we prepare for Shabab Al Ahli (the sides meet at Jazira’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Wednesday’s President’s Cup semi-final).
“It will be a double preparation day (Monday) as we prepare for them, they are also in good shape but we believe in our quality. I don’t think tonight too much about Al Ahli, from tomorrow I will concentrate on them.”
Despite Saturday’s success, the players are also not ready to relax, with Boss talisman Omar Abdulrahman insisting they are hungry for more silverware.
“We have other competitions that are very important to us, starting with the President’s Cup. It is a wide-open tournament for all of us and we will all be at the top of our focus to win this precious title,” said the 26-year-old maverick.
“This competition is important, and there is also the Champions League at our door. Now we think about the President’s Cup and then Asia.”
Although he has his heart set on what would be a glittering treble, ‘Amoory’ did stop to congratulate everyone associated with Al Ain on the title triumph.
“I congratulate the Al Ain nation everywhere and our big fans on the new title, this is the harvest of a full season of the players’ efforts and that of the management, the fruit of a lot of work between everyone,” said the man named Asian Player of the Year in 2016.
“The season has been tough this year, and all our matches have been very difficult. Everyone is playing very hard against us, and everyone wants to win the league.”
The Clarets were downed 3-2 by promoted Ajman in Abu Dhabi, which ended their aspirations of a maiden league triumph since 2010 – although Al Ain’s 4-0 thrashing of Al Nasr meant they would have been crowned champions whatever the result at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
They were fighting a losing battle heading into the penultimate round of fixtures, but the end of the road for their title dreams would still have hurt the Romanian and his players, who have put up such a stern title challenge this season.
The Clarets possess the second-best scoring and defensive records in the AGL and have won the second most games (13). Unsurprisingly, however, they trail the champions in all those categories, so it stands to reason that they deserve to finish as runners-up behind the imperious Boss.
Reghecampf said in defeat to the Orange Brigade: “We lost focus to Ajman, I warned against wasting chances. This happened in the game.”
One bright point for the visitors to the capital was victory assured Ayman Al Ramadi’s team’s survival in their first season back in the top-flight following promotion last term.
Wahda will now turn their attention to the President’s Cup, with Reghecampf’s side taking on Al Wasl in the semi-finals at Al Ain’s Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday.
“Our focus is on the President’s Cup and I wish everyone to stand by the team during this period,” added Reghecampf.
The Pro League Committee, meanwhile, has announced the dates for the final round of AGL fixtures, which will take place next Saturday and Sunday.
Relegated Hatta host Ajman on Saturday, while the second game of the day pits Sharjah against Dibba Al Fujairah, who know they will finish in the bottom four and face a relegation play-off with the third or fourth-placed team in First Division League no matter what the result.
Four games take place on Sunday, with all four kicking-off at 19:20. Second-bottom Emirates Club must beat Al Nasr if they are to avoid automatic relegation, while third-bottom Al Dhafra will be looking over their shoulders as they travel to the champions – with a point or win likely seeing them avoid go down automatically.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club host Wasl and the Abu Dhabi derby sees Wahda host Al Jazira.