Ali Mabkhout is confident he can bring his devastating form for the UAE back to his club as Al Jazira prepare for a second Abu Dhabi derby inside a week.
Mabkhout, who top scored at last month’s Gulf Cup with five goals, will be in the Jazira side lining up against in-form neighbours Bani Yas on Friday night.
The 24-year-old failed to make an impact in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Al Wahda – his first game since the UAE’s semi-final defeat to hosts Riyadh – but he insists he is still brimming with confidence.
“The Gulf Cup was fantastic. It was good for the UAE, to make us ready for the Asia Cup. I was happy with the way we played, it was good,” said Mabkhout.
“I was pleased with how I played too. It was good for me. It is always good for a striker to score.
“I hope I can continue this form for Jazira, for sure. I’ve just returned, to help out, and I hope I can continue to score for the club.”
Mabkhout will be paired in attack with the Arabian Gulf League’s top scorer, Mirko Vucinic.
The Montenegrin has 14 goals so far – his nearest rival in the scoring charts has six – and Jazira coach Eric Gerets stressed the importance of his front two clicking against the “dangerous” Sky Blues, who routed Fujairah 7-0 on Sunday.
“He (Mabkhout) has scored important goals for his country,” said Gerets. “In the last game he wasn’t at his best level, maybe he was a little bit tired or had a little injury, but let’s hope he will be 100 per cent fit and motivated for this important game, because if he is in good shape, he’s a very important player for us.
“I think the offensive sector was not as dangerous (against Al Wahda) as they were in other games,” said Gerets.
“This can happen in one game, but it’s important it doesn’t happen in two.”
For his part, Vucinic doesn’t mind where the goals come from, as long as Jazira win.
“I want to score goals but what I want (more than anything) when I play the game is to win,” said the 31-year-old. “It doesn’t interest me if I score or somebody else does.
“We have a very difficult match and we hope to go there to take three very important points for us.”
While Jazira have scored five more goals than any other team in the division, only the bottom three clubs have conceded more, and Gerets admits he is concerned about the amount of late goals his team are conceding.
Vucinic’s 87th minute opener against Wahda on Sunday was cancelled out by Hussain Fadel’s 90th minute equaliser.
“The game takes 90 minutes and if you think, after 86 minutes it’s finished, you make a mistake and we paid the price,” the former Belgian international defender said.
“We have conceded goals in the last minutes of games that have cost us points.”
Bani Yas’ demolition job on Fujairah was their sixth straight win in all competitions and Gerets says it serves as a warning.
He said: “We need a big result but you should take very seriously a team who wins 7-0. We know this team is very dangerous at this moment. We should be prepared as this team is in real good shape.”
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.”