Playmaker Tomas De Vincenti is convinced Al Shabab will not bear any psychological scars from this weekend’s heavy defeat at fellow finalists Al Ahli when the teams meet again for the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Strikers Makhete Diop and Ahmed Khalil both scored twice on Friday as the Red Knights inflicted a 4-1 hammering in the Arabian Gulf League. This loss was made more troubling by the fact the Dubai outfits had been tied at 1-1 by the hour mark, prior to a combination of slack mistakes by goalkeeper Salem Abdulla and ruthless finishing allowing the top-flight champions to race away with the three points.
On April 1, silverware will be on the line. For summer buy De Vincenti, the showpiece will be determined by whether Shabab can cut out the critical errors which have contributed to just three wins from 17 matches in all competitions rather than any lingering mental damage caused by Friday’s humiliation.
“No, because if we don’t make the same mistakes which we made today, then the game is totally different,” replied the 28-year-old, who has notched seven goals and two assists from his 16 AGL games since joining from Cypriot side APOEL.
“They have good players, who will punish you for the first mistake you make. We have to avoid this. Everybody was very positive at half-time, with good energy. We started the second half very well, so we have to avoid making mistakes – just this.”
Under now-jettisoned coach Fred Rutten, Shabab claimed top spot in the AG Cup’s Group B and breezed past high-flying Al Wasl during the semi-finals. These would prove to be rare bright points, with the otherwise poor results leading to Valencia stalwart Miroslav Djukic being drafted in last month.
De Vincenti revealed progress in the cup had caused a damaging distraction, saying: “It is true that during these months and weeks, the team, has been thinking about our game of the season – the Arabian Gulf Cup final.
“In the league, we have to finish as high as possible. This is because we have to defend our team, our colours and our people.”
Another exacting test awaits on Wednesday when defeated 2016 AFC Champions League finalists Al Ain travel to Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium.
“There is something negative in the air for us, that we cannot comeback,” De Vincenti said. “This is hurting us. Next week, we have another difficult game like this one [against Al Ain]. We must look forward and correct the mistakes, while also keeping the good things.”
Republic of Ireland record goal scorer Robbie Keane ensured his predatory instincts remained honed on Monday as he trained with Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli.
Keane, 36, is currently without a club after his five-year stint at Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy ended in November.
He is highly unlikely to link-up permanently with the Red Knights because only an Asian spot remains open for a free agent in their four-player foreign quota.
Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan, Brazil playmaker Everton Ribeiro and Senegal No9 Makhete Diop were all registered after the transfer window closed last month.
This means Keane – who struck 68 times in 146 internationals – is probably staying in shape in Dubai ahead of an imminent move elsewhere. The Championship’s Preston North End have been linked.
It’s not just the biting Shamal wind which has blown through Al Ain this week.
New coach Zoran Mamic has been drafted in – poached, as ex-Saudi Arabian employers Al Nassr have argued – to bring order to an unravelling 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League campaign.
The first steps of this mission were promising as Brazilian winger Caio, rampaging UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed and Omar Abdulrahman’s effortless penalty earned a 3-0 win against Al Nasr on a freezing night at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. This triumph sent the Boss back up to second and gave a platform for Zlatko Dalic’s replacement to build from.
“It was a difficult start for us, Al Nasr had some chances,” Mamic said. “But after that, we took control.
“We presented, I think, good football. After this game, of course you know better than me, that there is a lot of potential and quality within this team.”
Mamic patrolled the touchline with a stoic assuredness which stood in contrast to the paroxysms of opposite number Dan Petrescu. The Romanian’s anguish was exacerbated by Morocco playmaker Abdulaziz Barrada’s unforgivable second-minute miss, as a painful fourth-successive match without victory further stunted the Wanderley-less Blue Wave’s prior improvement.
Petrescu said: “We played very well in the first half, maybe the best 45 minutes of my time as coach here.
“The second half was the worst of my time here as a coach.”
It was clear from kick-off that Mamic is not set to rip up the blueprint inherited from his fellow Croatian. The 4-2-3-1 formation remained, with 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman given full licence to probe at will.
Yet the script should have been flipped almost from kick-off, only for Barrada to drag wide when played clean through.
It was all downhill from there for the visitors. UAE reserve goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh soon spilled to the grateful Caio for his 10th goal in 16 AGL games.
After the crossbar was struck at both ends by Barrada and Saudi Arabia predator Nasser Al Shamrani as the first half wound down, Ahmed deftly flicked home a third goal of the season and ‘Amoory’ punished centre-back Khalifa Mubarak’s brain-dead handball.