Al Jazira assistant Jan Versleijen has declared no decision has been made to sacrifice AFC Champions League progress for domestic glory.
The pointless Pride of Abu Dhabi host surprise Persian Gulf Pro League winners Esteghlal Khuzestan on Monday evening for their second fixture in Group B. This game comes before a defining double-header in the Arabian Gulf League for the runaway leaders, at holders Al Ahli on Saturday and home to runners-up Al Ain the following Wednesday.
With their latest continental campaign beginning with a dreadful 3-0 hiding against Qatar’s Lekhwiya last week and star Brazilian winger Leonardo not even registered for the competition so he can rest, a potential issue about prioritising is clear. But for Versleijen, he insisted the players will “fight like we have done all season” against the Iranians.
“If we are focusing only on the league, we will start with a completely different team,” said the 61-year-old, who has experienced two previous spells in sole charge of Jazira. “We have three games in one week, so we have to balance out by rotating the players to keep everybody in good shape.
“Always the first game is the most important and that’s tomorrow’s game. Be sure, we fight like we have done all season.”
Jazira could welcome back South Korea centre midfielder Park Jong-woo from injury. UAE prospect Ahmed Al Attas should get a chance in attack, while either deadly front man Ali Mabkhout or Brazilian forward Ailton Almeida may sit it out.
Esteghlal’s first-ever ACL game went perfectly last Monday as centre-back Abolfazl Alaei’s 80th-minute header condemned Saudi Arabia’s Al Fateh to a 1-0 defeat.
This result contrasts with shaky domestic form which sees the champions a lowly seventh.
They have spent the build-up acclimitising in Dubai and boss Sirous Pourmousavi, 45, is full of belief about his inexperienced squad.
He said: “We are in a good situation. We spent a few days in Dubai in a camp and now ready looking forward to our first game away.
“Jazira are leading their league and they should be respected.
“Our only problem is that we have less experience at this level. But I trust we have good players.”