Al Jazira coach Eric Gerets has warned his players they must develop a killer instinct if they want to emerge Arabian Gulf League champions this season.
The Belgian watched his team take and then squander a vital lead against title rivals Al Wahda in the dying stages at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium on Sunday night.
Victory would have seen Gerets’ side go above their opponents at the top of the table and he admitted his disappointment at them failing to finish the job.
He said: “If you score a goal in the 86th minute, you think it’s over. I wanted to bring on Yaser Matar for the last remaining minutes but then they scored the goal and it cost us two points.
“There were only two chances in the first half. In the second half we had a little bit of the possession, because they played a little bit much on the counter which is logical and I can only repeat that if you score a goal in the 86th minute the match should be finished.
“If you score then you should have the three points.
“To draw is a big disappointment but we’ve could also lost the game.”
Gerets chose to include UAE national team players Ali Khaseif and Ali Mabkhout in his starting XI, who both competed at the Gulf Cup.
Mabkhout, who finished the top-scorer at the tournament with five goals, was replaced by Ahmed Rabea in the 75th minute and Gerets insisted the in-form forward was fit and ready to play.
“He said he had a little problem on his abductors on both sides. He got some treatment from the physiotherapist but he said he was fit and wanted to play.
“If the top-scorer said he wants to play then you put him in the team.”
Meanwhile Gerets’ opposite number, Wahda boss Jose Peseiro, said he was satisfied with the result.
He said: “I think it was a fantastic match and both teams tried to win.
“In the first half, we created two opportunities. And in the second half, we created three opportunities.
“I think everybody saw such a fantastic match and my players showed a lot of commitment and good spirit.”
Sebastian Tagliabue is confident Al Wahda can break the chain of dominance held by Arabian Gulf League’s big three teams and win the title this season.
Wahda are top of the table, having enjoyed a near flawless start to the 2014/15 campaign, picking up from their strong finish to last season. Jose Peseiro’s men are a point above Abu Dhabi rivals Al Jazira while champions Al Ahli lie seventh and Al Ain, back to back winners in 2012 and 2013, are sixth.
Wahda are the only team not to lose a game in the league this season, winning five and drawing four.
They maintained their unbeaten record with a 1-1 draw against city rivals Jazira on Sunday evening, although they were indebted to a late Hussain Fadel equaliser in injury time after Mirko Vucinic had broken the deadlock minutes earlier.
Argentine Tagliabue, 29, has five goals to his name this term, but although he says the team are performing well, he believes he can perform better individually.
The striker was speaking at a specially organised UAE National Day football match between players from the three Abu Dhabi AGL teams and 172 schoolchildren at Wahda’s Al Nayan Stadium yesterday.
He said: “The players are confident that we can win the title. We can win every game and we can beat every team.
“We are working for this and we will fight this season to ensure we take the championship. We will try.”
Tagliabue, who signed for the Clarets in June 2013 from Saudi Arabian Premier League giants Al Shabab, acknowledged that the trio of Al Jazira, Al Ain and Al Ahli are the strongest teams in the UAE, but they should beware of the league leaders.
“Al Ahli, Al Ain and Al Jazira are the best teams in the UAE, but this is normal. They always have big foreign players and the best local players too,” he said.
“They always have the pressure to become champions but this year I think Al Wahda can fight with them and these teams need to watch out for Al Wahda.”
While his team are in impressive form, Tagliabue believes there is room for improvement personally.
“We’re having a good season,” he said. “The team is first at the moment but I know I have to score more because we have played nine games and I only have five goals, so I have to score more.
“I’m happy with the team and the performance of the team, but personally I’m not 100 per cent happy.”
Speaking about the light-hearted kick-about with the local children, Tagliabue added: “It’s special for the kids, they want to play with us.
“It takes a bit of the stress out of the games we’re playing and we can enjoy it.
“It’s important to mingle with them, important to show what a football life is like, because it’s amazing and one of the best lifestyles in the world.”
There remains precious little to separate Abu Dhabi rivals Al Jazira and Al Wahda. Even when Mirko Vucinic scored an 87th-minute opener for the hosts, a leveller was soon secured.
A low-tempo top-of-the-table clash at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium came to life at the death, rust caused by a month-long Arabian Gulf League sojourn for the Gulf Cup taking a long time to shake off.
Vucinic, once again, looked to be the match winner for the Pride of Abu Dhabi. When the 14-goal top scorer stretched to flick in while falling there seemed no way back for leaders Wahda, a first defeat since January 23 looked assured.
That view countenanced everything that makes Jose Peseiro’s men creditable title challengers.
Defender Hussain Fadel epitomised their desire. Despite nursing an injury from Kuwait’s Gulf Cup exploits, he was first on the scene to tap in 120 seconds later after Ali Khaseif spilled Sebastian Tagliabue’s half-volley.
Avoid a loss on Thursday against Al Dhafra and their top-flight unbeaten run will be stretched to 20, remarkable for this helter-skelter division.
For Jazira, the question of their flimsy defence remains. Only moments remained to secure just a third clean sheet of the season, but unsurprisingly a side whose record is only superior to the bottom three could not hold on.
Prior to the heart-racing end, the only spark had been provided by the cascading fireworks set off in the 43rd minute as part of Jazira’s National Day celebrations.
The result suited the visiting Clarets. They remain top, a point separating them from last night’s better-resourced and more glamorous opponents.
A fixture list squeezed to breaking point by the Gulf Cup and Asian Cup provides hope of a champion coming from outside the traditional heavyweights this season.
The draining effect of the latter competition was seen in a low-key evening for the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s UAE stars, Khaleej Golden Boot-winner Ali Mabkhout notably off-colour.
Wahda boss Jose Peseiro has fewer international players, continuity of selection remains on his side. The Portuguese chose patience when handling his Whites players, veteran Ismail Matar and ‘24th man’ Amer Omar both late substitutes.
The first half was a tense affair, the combatants probing to create space. A glaring chance was missed by both, Mohamed Al Shehhi failing to convert a Tagliabue cross from close range and Vucinic shooting a rebound straight at Wahda goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani.
The energy levels dropped after the break. There was no hint of what was to come.
Playmaker Manuel Lanzini had tried to craft an opening all evening without effect. His class showed when his chipped ball played Vucinic in, the three-time Serie A title winner with Juventus stretching to convert under pressure.
All Jazira had to do was keep it tight. Yet again, they proved such a task is beyond them.
Adel Hermach’s deep cross caused chaos, last season 28-goal marksman Tagliabue left unmarked to force the spill which Fadel pounced on.
Other AGL results
Al Fujairah 0-7 Bani Yas
Al Ain 1-1 Al Nasr
Al Ahli 0-1 Emirates
Here are Bani Yas' seven goals: