INTERVIEW: Poland star sure of Sharjah revival

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Adrian Mierzejewski is part of a new foreign quartet at Sharjah.

Adrian Mierzejewski knows when something good is about to happen.

The 41-cap Poland playmaker was lured to ambitious Sharjah last month, seduced by a club who have made themselves one of the storylines of pre-season with a remarkable spending spree designed to emphatically avoid a third-successive brush with relegation.

The calibre of the recruits are unquestioned, the statement it sends out undeniable – a turning point in their recent history has been reached.

In total, four raids on Saudi Arabia have gained new prominence for the King, an outfit who have won just two trophies in 20 years. Mierzejewski shone when the Saudi Professional League was claimed by Al Nassr in 2014/15, while hulking Venezuela centre forward Gelmin Rivas finished second-top scorer in his debut a season later at Al Ittihad.

Brazilian centre-back Digao is a proven warrior at centre-back and he will relish being reunited with coach Giorgos Donis, the pair previously winning three trophies together at Al Hilal.

Now, all that is needed to transform sweeping change into success is an ignition point.

Mierzejewski witnessed how one result boosted his nation from perennial underachievers to Euro 2016 challengers and he tells Sport360 that Friday’s Arabian Gulf League opener at Al Shabab could propel the King towards a similarly bright future.

“Now is a big boom for Polish players,” the 29-year-old says in a makeshift office at Sharjah Stadium. “Unfortunately I couldn’t play (at Euro 2016, where Bialo-czerwoni reached the quarter-finals), but Euro 2012 was in our country and playing in it was very nice.

“This last tournament was very good for us and everybody now expects something more. But our last big success was nearly 40 years ago (Poland finished third at the 1974 and 1982 World Cups).

“About two years ago, it was not very good as we lost two or three friendly games. I think the most important game was two years ago in qualifying, we beat Germany (2-0 in October 2014) for the first time in all our history.

“Those three points gave us confidence and we started to believe we are a strong team. I hope now it will be the same in Sharjah.

“We started with the Cup games and we then play Al Shabab in the league. I know the beginning is the most important. If we win a few games, the young players will take self-confidence. I have seen that this works.”

Sweeping changes at Sharjah followed last term’s poor performance, when they finished just two points and two places above the drop zone. Coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari and all four foreign players departed in the aftermath.

The starlets who claimed the 2015/16 U-21 League will now underpin a roster boosted by the Saudi trio – and one further non-Emirati addition to come – and promising forward Jamal Maroof, whose arrival was secured as part of the negotiations to sell star striker Wanderley to Al Nasr.

Mierzejewski caught Donis’ eye while both were employed in the SPL, where he scored 18 times and registered 11 assists in 43 appearances.

“The most important thing was it was the coach’s decision,” says the ex-Trabzonspor star of Donis’ decision to sign him as a free agent. “He wanted to bring me and I cancelled my contract at Al Nassr, as there were maybe a few changes within the club.

“I think Sharjah is a good option. The last two years were not perfect, but now I hope the team will improve.

“With the foreigners, we have come here to help the young players. This will show Sharjah can come back to play for something bigger than staying in the first league.

“Everybody is expecting more from us. We [Mierzejewski, Rivas and Digao] played in Saudi Arabia. We want to help and I hope we will do our best to show it was no mistake to bring us here. We will see.”

New surroundings do not equal a lack of familiar faces. Mierzejewski has particular praise for Digao, a defender he battled against during his two seasons in the Kingdom but socialised with off the pitch.

“He is a Brazilian tank. He is strong and fast – he has everything. For sure, he will be in the top-three defenders in the UAE. He is a very-good player and it is very difficult to play against him,” said Mierzejewski.

“We met each other a few times in the compound in Riyadh, we stayed in the same one. We didn’t meet for the first time here. We know each other, our families, our wives, our daughters, so it is okay.”

The attacking midfielder was prominent in both preceding Arabian Gulf Cup matches, to mixed effect. A penalty crashed against the crossbar during the opening 1-0 loss at Al Wasl, while his two strikes and constant probing undid Emirates Club during a 5-1 thrashing last week. Repeats of such displays will be key if Sharjah are to fulfil their promise, although Mierzejewski is keeping his goals quiet for now.

“I have my targets, but there are secrets. I believe we will do some surprises in the cup games and in the league I think the positions six-eight will be good. But I am sure that we can do something more. The beginning is the most important,” he says.

“With this team, there is a big difference. The last two seasons were 10-11th and always trying to survive. Now, I want to be top six – we will see, but I believe it will work.”

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AGL: Wahda can scrap for title, says Aguirre

Matt Jones 15/09/2016
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In confident mood: Javier Aguirre

Al Wahda supremo Javier Aguirre insists belief is coursing through the club that they can fight for the Arabian Gulf League title, ahead of Friday’s opening fixture.

The Clarets haven’t lifted the trophy in seven years, but after recovering from a dreadful start to claim third last season, the Mexican and his players are daring to dream.

“Yes, indeed. Finishing third last year was fantastic, but everyone at the club, my team and myself, believe we can now fight for the title along with teams like Al Ahli and Al Ain,” said the 57-year-old ahead of Wahda’s clash at newly-promoted Hatta.

Wahda won a maiden Arabian Gulf Cup last season, beating Al Shabab 1-0 in the final, and also qualified for the play-offs of the 2017 AFC Champions League.

Their headline addition has been Hungary winger Balazs Dzsudzsak, who was purchased from Turkey’s Bursaspor. Midfielders Tariq Ahmed and Nasser Abdulhadi were also recruited from Dibba Al Fujairah.

Their quest to reach the AGL summit begins tomorrow with a trip to Hatta. Aguirre is wary of the threat posed by the First Division League champions, but is only interested in one result.

He said: “We respect a lot Hatta, they deserve to be here, but our idea is to go for the three points.

“In the first five to seven games last season we lost many points and at the end of the season it cost us. (However), all my team is healthy, I have no excuses.”

In tomorrow’s other games, Shabab host Sharjah and new boys Ittihad Kalba go to Dibba.

Meanwhile, Al Jazira appear set to add Saudi Arabia midfielder Salman Al Faraj to their squad after Al Hilal chairman Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Fahd revealed a transfer was close.

Al Faraj, 27, has been strongly linked with a Dh35 million switch throughout this week. A deal now is reportedly in place which will see the 25-times-capped international take the place of South Korea’s Park Jong-woo as the Asian-qualified player in the four-man foreign quota.

News about the move became concrete when Sheikh Abdul Aziz tweeted: “Salman Al Faraj is headed to Al Jazira.”

Previously this summer, the Pride of Abu Dhabi have bought Morocco playmaker Mbark Boussoufa, UAE right-back Mohammed Fawzi and midfielders Salem Abdulla from Al Wasl and Humaid Ahmed from Fujairah.

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Lima strike sees Al Ahli prevail

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Fully committed: Khamis Esmail (l).

Al Ahli emerged as the victors from an eventful first running of the Arabian Gulf Super Cup on foreign soil, Rodrigo Lima’s second-half penalty proving the difference against Al Jazira as both sides finished with 10 men on the pitch.

Lima, 33, struck the winner on 69 minutes in Cairo’s 30 June Stadium after emerging midfielder Waleed Hussain was felled by centre-back Fares Juma’s rash challenge.

The match was already 10 v 10 at that stage, with Pride of Abu Dhabi full-back Salim Rashid and UAE international Habib Fardan both seeing red in either half.

New signing Mohammed Fawzi had struck an own goal just before the break to put the Red Knights ahead, with Brazil playmaker Thi-ago Neves’ rasping injury-time effort proving nothing but a consolation as the Red Knights lifted the trophy for a fourth time.

The 16th running of the showpiece event between the Arabian Gulf League champions (Ahli) and President’s Cup holders (Jazira) had been moved to Egypt in a bid to increase the exposure of UAE football.

A healthy crowd was present in the Egyptian metropolis last night to witness this groundbreaking contest, which sprung to life around the half-hour mark.

2015 AFC Asian Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil went down after being tripped by 22-year-old prospect Rashid outside the box, with the referee producing a red card in response.

The UAE forward then soon sparked the breakthrough, strike partner Lima’s goal-bound shot forcing ex-Al Ain defender Fawzi to erroneously slide the ball into his net after an incisive throughball.

Numerical parity was then restored on 61 minutes, Fardan being uncharacteristically given his marching orders after a high boot on Mohamed Jamal. But this didn’t stop Lima from doubling up from 12 yards less than 10 minutes later.

Neves then managed to smash in on the angle, although this strike came far too late for his club.

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