#360view: Jazira need to ditch continental fear of failure

Sport360's Matt Monaghan argues Al Jazira should not panic in the face of a twin assault in the Arabian Gulf League and AFC Champions League

Matt Monaghan
by Matt Monaghan
26th February 2017

article:26th February 2017

Jazira were stunned in their first group match.
Jazira were stunned in their first group match.

Landmark triumphs can become more daunting the closer they approach.

Panic about seeing untrammelled success reach a sudden end will play tricks on the mind, chopping away at emboldened belief.

For Al Jazira, this effect has been noticeable when it comes to the 2017 AFC Champions League.

Their – thus far – unchecked charge towards a first Arabian Gulf League crown since 2010/11 has been an enlivening surprise after last term’s misery in it.

A bountiful nine-point lead is held with only seven games to play, meaning if successive matches against heavyweights Al Ahli and Al Ain go to recent form within the next 10 days, then the hallowed trophy will be all but theirs.

Assistant Jan Versleijen repeatedly moved to reject talk during Sunday’s pre-match press conference that progress at home is being given greater value.

But the teamsheet for the visit of Esteghlal Khuzestan on Monday will speak volumes about the club’s continental intentions.

This is not the time to countenance demure moves. With no outstanding candidate in West Asia, the Pride of Abu Dhabi should instead be living up to their bold nickname.

Firing on all cylinders, they could face up the likes of UAE neighbours – and defeated 2016 finalists – Al Ain, Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal and Iran heavyweights Persepolis. An improvement on their club-best run to the round of 16 is eminently possible.

Instead, a reticence rarely witnessed since coach Henk ten Cate took charge in December 2015 saw them whipped 3-0 at Qatar Stars League challengers Lekhwiya last week when Group B got under way.

Djamel Belmadi’s men are strong, but not so omnipotent to push Jazira aside with impunity. This result spoke more of a psychological barrier, rather than disparity in playing ability.

A fight on two fronts does not necessitate a double collapse and Ten Cate’s squad is packed with premium players.

UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout is comfortably one of Asia’s most-feared marksmen, Morocco playmaker Mbark Boussoufa has added refinement in midfield and right-back Mohammed Fawzi can always be relied upon.

This list does not even include outstanding Brazilian winger and January purchase Leonardo, who is sitting out the group stages because of the lingering effects of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ run to the 2016 ACL crown.

Such players should be fighting on all fronts. There should be no place for a fear of failure.