A rousing speech and injection of youth from boss Sami Al Jaber which followed a devastating defeat to Fujairah salvaged Al Wahda’s wayward season, according to star striker Sebastian Tagliabue.
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Al Jaber, 42, floundered in the initial weeks after Jose Peseiro’s controversial February dismissal.
A team that had been a fixture in the top three all season on the back of a 20-match Arabian Gulf League-unbeaten run stumbled to four losses in the Saudi Arabia legend’s opening six games.
Their prospects of qualifying for Asia’s premier club competition seemed over when they collapsed to a dispiriting 1-0 loss at lowly Fujairah on April 3, but in the aftermath came renewed belief.
Al Jaber provided fresh direction, two wins and Monday’s goalless draw with Al Ain following.
“We are playing much better,” said 12-goal top scorer Tagliabue, ahead of Friday’s trip to Al Ahli.
“The coach told us to believe in our football and play our football and do not care about anything else. After the Fujairah game [a 1-0 defeat on April 3], we have changed completely.”
At the vanguard has been a number of young stars. Old hands such as Tawfeeq Al Hosani and Adil Abdulla have dropped out, fresh-faced defensive midfielder Mohammad Al Abdulla and full-back Ahmed Rashid coming to the forefront.
“The introduction of the younger players has been very good for us,” Tagliabue said.
“We needed new players to renew the group.” Wahda still have it all to do in the final two rounds to secure a top-three finish and its guarantee of ACL participation. Stay in fourth and they could lose their spot to the President’s Cup winners. The stalemate with Al Ain saw them lose ground to second-placed Al Jazira and third-placed Al Shabab, though they also meet on Friday.
“I felt we lost two points, even though we played the champion team as we played well. We should have got all the points. Those points we dropped could be very important. Al Shabab and Al Jazira both won their games.”