Whoever is the next coach to jump onto the carousel at Al Jazira, a bright future is possible for them.
A youthful Pride of Abu Dhabi impressed during their first Arabian Gulf League-assignment against Emirates Club since Abel Braga’s doomed return was brought to a merciful end last weekend.
As he became the seventh boss sacked within the last four years, the Brazilian left a club in disarray following an intolerable 4-0 thrashing by Fujairah.
Braga’s replacement is either imminent or expected after the festive period, judging by who you listen to. In the absence of the new man, a promising display saw a solid 4-0 win earned – just their second in two-and-a-half months – against the Falcons.
A fresh start brought fresh impetus in front of a disappointingly-deserted Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. Electricity returned to the players’ legs, while a coherent tactical plan was visible under caretaker Ali Al Jneibi.
— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) December 19, 2015
Youngsters Salem Ali, Ahmed Rabea and Mohamed Jamal were lively. Reinvigorated senior stars Ali Mabkhout, Thiago Neves and Park Jong-woo knitted it all together.
Solidity re-emerged, the porous defence which had previously conceded 25 times in 11 appearances keeping front men Rodrigo Pimpao and Wilmar Jordan quiet.
Ali – utilised in central midfield – was exceptional throughout, a lofted ball being dispatched with aplomb by Neves who finally resembled something like the Brazil playmaker expensively recruited from Al Hilal this summer. The 22-year-old’s fellow junior Sultan Al Shamsi got the goal of the game to make it 3-0, curling home to evidence his exciting talent.
The swagger also returned to UAE forward Mabkhout, whose body language and output degenerated under Braga. His sixth and seventh AGL strikes this term for the top scorer at the 2015 Asian Cup followed, skimming in a half-volley and cheekily chipping in on the final whistle from an acute angle.
— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) December 19, 2015
With this squad, Braga criminally underachieved during his baneful six months in charge. Last term’s second-placed finishers under Eric Gerets should not have languished in 11th, this display providing all the evidence the trigger-happy Jazira hierarchy required to justify the early removal of the man who won so many trophies from 2008-11.
A new dawn was present on both the team sheet and during the warm-up. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia shook the rust off Khalid Alsenaani, while respected former Roma, Real Madrid, England and Russia fitness coach Massimo Neri put the outfield players through their paces.
Freshly-installed director of football Gianluca Nani watched from the stands, the experienced ex-West Ham United and Watford official set to play a key role in identifying the next supremo. He can tell any targets they have fine materials to work with after this.
— شركة نادي الامارات (@Emirates_FC) December 19, 2015
Jazira began on the front foot, Neves forcing an awkward save from Ahmed Alshaji with a snapped drive from 20 yards.
The 30-year-old got the scoring under way soon after, lashing in with his left foot after a swivelled chest control from Ali’s pin-point, 40-yard pass put him in behind. The assist maker missed a sitter with a close-range header before the break, though his side were not to be punished.
Mabkhout’s half-volley skimmed along the turf on 49 minutes after he was played into a pocket of space on the edge of the area.
Pimpao’s side-footed effort then deflected narrowly wide as Emirates tried in vain to prevent a fifth-consecutive loss in all competitions. All their hope was lost on 71 minutes as Jazira’s soared, Al Shamsi’s energy from the bench seeing the 19-year-old left-back drive on from 30 yards before curling sublimely home into the top corner.
Mabkhout almost matched him at the death, stylishly placing over the stranded Alshaji from the goal line.
Interim Al Jazira head coach Ali Al Junaibi insists his players will soon be putting the pride back in the Pride of Abu Dhabi.
Al Junaibi oversaw a 2-0 loss to Dibba Al Fujairah in the Arabian Gulf Cup Group B dead rubber on Tuesday in his first outing since replacing Abel Braga, but he believes he can already sense an upturn in morale since taking over.
“We are ready technically and physically to face Emirates and I promise that the team will change the picture and will provide the level befitting the name and status of Al Jazira,” said Al Junaibi.
“We have studied this team very well and we have an idea of their strengths and weaknesses and we will work intensively to develop a plan that will help the players to overcome this competitor.”
He revealed that the players are already starting to feel a positive change and have started to regain confidence in themselves.
“What I have seen is that the players are beginning to regain their trust in each other and are beginning to believe once more in their ability to achieve victories,” he said.
Jazira’s frailties have long been their inability to keep clean sheets but Al Junaibi says he has confidence in his defenders.
“I previously worked with Musallem Fayez and Fares Juma when they were at Al Ain,” said Al Junaibi. “I have a good idea of the rest of the defenders and what individual assets they have.”
Having plundered a league-high 66 goals last term, Jazira have found the net just 18 times this season, and Al Junaibi insists the forwards must share an equal portion of blame.
“The responsibility of maintaining clean sheets starts with the attackers and the duties of the defence also include the 11 players on the pitch, not just the back four,” he said. “Al Jazira does not suffer only defensively and the defenders cannot bear the responsibility of the shortcomings of the attackers, who are finding it difficult to create chances and score goals.”
Park Jong-woo and Fayez return following suspension but Jazira remain without injured trio Ali Khasif, Mirko Vucinic and Jefferson Farfan.
Al Nasr have moved to silence a bizarre rumour in the French media that former Lille manager Herve Renard is set to replace Ivan Jovanovic as head coach.
The former Ivory Coast national team boss was dismissed by the Ligue 1 strugglers last month and was reported by Le 10 Sport yesterday to be holding talks with the Blue Wave, who have been riding high under Serb Jovanovic since he took charge in June 2013.
The 53-year-old led Nasr to a treble of Gulf Club Champions Cup, President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup success last season, while the team sit third in the Arabian Gulf League, three points behind second-placed Al Ahli and seven adrift of leaders Al Ain.
“Al Nasr Club denies news issued in some social networking sites about the club negotiating with French coach Herve Renard or any another coach,” a club statement issued on Friday read.
“The club were surprised by these rumors on social networking sites and some sports sites that referred to a contract being discussed between Al Nasr and a new coach at this important time of the season.
“The club urges everyone to investigate the credibility of the news and take the correct sources and not be deceived by these
rumors that aim to reduce the value of stability and achievements Ivan Jovanovic has achieved with the club in recent periods.”
Jovanovic himself was only focused on Saturday’s game with struggling Al Shaab at Rashid Al-Maktoum Stadium today when speaking at a pre-game press conference on Thursday.
“Always when we meet a team struggling for survival we must have respect for the opponent when searching for the three points,” said Jovanovic,
“Always we hear that the game is simple, but this is a mistake.
“It is a very important game to us and we are preparing well in order to collect the three points in the game.
Emirati forward Salem Saleh said he and his team-mates are focused on the three points.
“The coach asks us in all games specific instructions and everyone seeks to comply with what the coach says in order to collect the three points.”