Boss Ivan Jovanovic is confident his European success will aid Al Nasr during the 2016 AFC Champions League, as they prepare to learn their fate in today’s group-stage draw.
The Blue Wave earned an automatic return to Asia’s premier club competition for the first time since 2012 with victory in last season’s President’s Cup.
They are joined automatically by Arabian Gulf League winners Al Ain, while runners-up Al Jazira and third-placed Al Shabab will also feature in Thursday afternoon’s ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, despite needing play-offs next year to earn their berths.
Jovanovic, 53, took unfancied Cypriots APOEL to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in 2011-12 and he believes this experience could be key when the action begins next February.
He said: “It is very pleasant from our side (to be in the ACL) and also you have great responsibility to represent your country.
“It was my best moments as a coach in Europe. It is now my first participation in the Asian competition and some of my experience gained in Europe will help me.”
Shabab face a daunting play-off trip to Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor on February 9, while the Pride of Abu Dhabi have a glamour tie against Xavi’s Al Sadd on the same day.
Veteran defender Juma Abdulla, 33, cannot wait to welcome the Barcelona and Spain legend to the capital.
He said: “It’s the most important competition in Asia, so we have to try our best. We know Al Sadd will want to be in the group stages too and we will fight to be in it.
“It will be an honour to play against a great player like Xavi.
“It’s good for us to play against somebody important like him.”
Al Jazira know they must maintain the momentum against Fujairah on Thursday after picking up a first victory in two-and-a-half months last weekend.
Despite restoring morale with a 5-1 thrashing of lowly Al Shaab, now managed by former Jazira coach Walter Zenga, on Saturday, it is just one step on the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s long road to recovery after an horrendous start to the 2015-16 season.
The win was Jazira’s first in 11 games, since a derby triumph against Al Wahda on September 18, and both players and coaches are aware it will take a lot more to repair the damage done by a shoddy start to Abel Braga’s second reign.
“Fujairah is a very important game,” said Braga at his pre-match press conference ahead of the trip north.
“I have played Fujairah twice (this season). Once in the Arabian Gulf Cup and in the summer camp in Vienna too. They are a very good team and (head coach) Ivan Hasek is a very good coach. I respect him and I like him.
“I consider it will be a very important game for us and it will be very important for us to keep the momentum going from the Al Shaab win. It is very important because it will be away so we have to focus.”
Jazira have just three wins from their opening 10 league games. In fact those are their only victories in 15 matches in all competition so far.
They are 11th in the table, one place below their opponents, but could move into the sanctuary of the top half of the AGL with victory.
Defender Juma Abdulla is adamant Jazira’s poor form has not been down to the fact they are a poor team but says it is vital they now go on a winning run.
“Always, winning will help the team get better,” said the 33-year-old.
“Our form has not been because we are bad, our team is good. Players played well but the results have not been helping us. Against Al Shaab we win. Now we need to get results and then we can enjoy our games more.”
Their season may be ambling towards mediocrity but an emerging new generation of exciting talent at Al Jazira can act as the silver lining, according to boss Abel Braga.
Braga’s heralded return to the capital in the summer has not exactly gone to plan, with the Pride of Abu Dhabi slumping to 11th place in the Arabian Gulf League table following just three wins and five defeats in their opening 10 games.
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They are already 14 points adrift of champions Al Ain at the top of the table and on the verge of elimination from the Arabian Gulf Cup, meaning any chance of silverware this season is remote.
Braga is looking at the positives, however, and sees Jazira’s woes as providing the platform for next generation to flourish.
“Now we are giving chances to the youngsters and we are improving,” said Braga.
— AlJazira FC Official (@AlJazira_uae) December 8, 2015
“They have done a good job and I want to give them the confidence to continue in the same way. We want them to have experience and we have no option also, because of the league we are in 11th place.
“The academy has given us good players and we want to use them now. If we don’t do it now we will only have to do it some other time.
“We are missing some players and this is a renovation stage where we keep faith with the younger players. Sometimes when you renovate a team you need time for this.
“We hope the players will have better performances. Some of the other clubs are not affected by this but for us it is not easy. The turn for this team will be in the future.”
— AlJazira FC Official (@AlJazira_uae) December 8, 2015
The likes of Ahmed Al Attas, Khalfan Mubarak, Ahmed Rabeya (all 20) and Sultan Al Suwaidi, Salem Ali and Saif Khalfan (all 22) are now prominent fixtures in the Jazira first team.
Al Attas and Mubarak were both on the scoresheet as the Pride of Abu Dhabi beat Al Shaab 5-1 to record their first victory in 11 games on Saturday, and Braga believes they can follow in the footsteps of academy graduates Ali Mabkhout and Khamis Esmail.
The Brazilian gave the duo their debuts during his first stint at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and the Portuguese believes the current crop could form the backbone of the UAE national team in years to come.
“If you look at the examples of Khamis Esmail and Ali Mabkhout, when they played in 2010, 90 per cent of the time they were on the substitute’s bench, but now they are playing 60 or 70 per cent of the time with the national team so we are very happy and very proud of them,” said Braga.
“We hope these young people will do the same in the future with the national team. When I ended my time with Jazira in 2011 Mabkhout and Esmail had a small chance of success, now they play 90 per cent of the games for Jazira.
“I gave them their chance, to give them confidence. Now I am doing the same with the new young players.”