Al Wasl boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena has declared the winner of Friday’s critical clash at Al Wahda will gain the “great morale boost” required to push on for Arabian Gulf League glory.
The meeting at Zayed Sports City pits the second-placed Cheetahs against the third-placed hosts. With only two points separating the first three – Al Ain lead – in the table, victory in Abu Dhabi could be a defining moment in the campaign.
“The next match between Al Wasl and Al Wahda teams is important, although it will not decide the championship. But the winner of the next game will receive a great morale boost,” said Arruabarrena.
Meanwhile, Emirates Club coach Noorudin Al Obeidi has told his struggling players they have no choice but to fight the fear versus star-studded Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
The Falcons come into this clash only one point outside the drop zone, as they battle to extend a five-season stay in the top flight.
“We do not fear facing Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and we have no choice but to win at this critical stage of the season,” said Al Obeidi about opponents who possess a plethora of elite footballers, but haven’t won in the top flight since October 14.
Friday’s final fixture pits resurgent Sharjah against second-bottom Hatta.
Elsewhere, unwanted Al Ain striker Douglas found an escape route on Wednesday when Turkey’s Alanyaspor snapped him up.
The UAE Football Association have confirmed clubs from their nation will not pull out of the 2018 AFC Champions League, despite voicing “strong reservations” about the AFC’s repeat decision to enforce home-and-away meetings with teams from pariah-state Qatar.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia lead a bloc that severed all relations with the Doha government in June because of its alleged support for terrorism. This has forced strain on relations between the neighbours, at all levels.
Demands were made in the wake of November’s ACL draw that games against Qatar Stars League-outfits must be played at neutral venues. But after a thorough review, the continental governing body reconfirmed on Saturday in a letter that the existing format would remain.
The UAE FA reluctantly accepted this stance on Sunday, sending out an official statement which read: “The UAE Football Association will provide all facilities and support to our teams participating in the 2018 AFC Champions League, despite our strong reservations about the way, and the mechanism by which, the decision was reached.
“We are keen to cooperate with the AFC and announce the participation of our clubs in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
“We will coordinate with the clubs on all details.
“We will also hold a meeting with the AFC to ensure safe participation of the teams.”
Teams from the UAE and Qatar are guaranteed to meet each other in all four groups in the west if Al Ain and Al Gharafa win Tuesday’s play-offs.
Clashes between sides from Saudi Arabia and Iran will continue to be played at neutral venues, with the political situation deemed too hostile.
Even in the white-hot arena of competitive sport, there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ losses.
For the UAE and their conservative new coach Alberto Zaccheroni, a moribund penalty defeat to outsiders Oman in the Gulf Cup final is to be banded firmly in the latter category. The oppressive negatively surrounding the Whites reached its nadir during another 120 scoreless minutes in Kuwait City, being outplayed by an uncelebrated nation who chose not to select their only star – veteran Al Hilal goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.
Less than three months into his tenure, the pressure is on for the ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician to show he is the man to lead the Whites to glory at January 2019’s Asian Cup. If this stodgy and strangulated approach is the blueprint moving forward, a decision has been made that success can only be earned in mind-numbing fashion when Asia’s heavyweight descend on the Emirates.
Al Ain creator Omar Abdulrahman is the obvious villain from a harrowing showpiece in which flimsy efforts from 12 yards during the 90th minute and subsequent shootout denied his side unmerited victory. Questions about the gifted Amoory’s character will now only increase in volume at a time in which he has only six months left on his contract and a move abroad should be near.
Yet, a third triumph in the regional tournament would not have been warranted. Neither on the evidence of last night or in a tournament at large which has included a perfect five clean sheets but no goals from open play.
The Whites’ draining results could be mistaken for digital code; 1-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0. In more brutal terms, a side containing several of Asia’s most-celebrated players scored once in roughly 510 minutes of action – even this coming from 12 yards by Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout in the opening 1-0 victory against Oman in Group A.
This analogue output is troubling when the talent at hand is considered. Abdulrahman and – still at the time of writing – Jazira forward Ahmed Khalil are recent AFC Players of the Year, while Mabkhout raced to top-scorer honours during the preceding 2014 edition and 2015’s Asian Cup.
That all three came into the competition with pre-existing injury problems is mitigation. So is the fact electric winger Ismail Al Hammadi was only fit enough to be an impact substitute following a serious knee problem of his own.
The timing of these blows was unfortunate for Zaccheroni, as was the felling of dynamic Jazira full-back Mohammed Fawzi who is a huge fillip to his 3-4-3 formation.
Yet, some of the choices on show in Kuwait in the past few weeks must have caused concern to a UAE Football Association which saw three coaches at the helm in a tumultuous 2017.
Zaccheroni singularly failed to fill the gap left by yet another injury to midfield conductor, Amer Abdulrahman. In his absence, there were spells – repeated for much of last night’s second half – in which an unnecessary three defensive midfielders were on the pitch.
It was also alarming to see his squad not include burgeoning Jazira playmaker Khalfan Mubarak as an invigorating option off the substitutes’ bench.
None of this is a surprise. Zaccheroni’s dour reputation has been earned over decades.
The UAE FA have entered into a Faustian bargain with the 64-year-old. Success will come with severe boredom.
This is clearly a cost they are willing to pay.