2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman’s curious season has continued after a “lack of physical readiness” saw him left off Al Ain’s trip to begin their Group D-campaign in the 2018 AFC Champions League at Riyadh giants Al Hilal on Tuesday.
Abdulrahman, 26, has only appeared in 10 of the Boss’ 26 matches in all competitions this term through a combination of injury and a controversial domestic ban incurred for infractions on UAE duty at the Gulf Cup. His performance levels were also criticised by coach Zoran Mamic during his only club run-out this year, a 2-0 continental play-off triumph against Bahrain’s Malkiya on January 30.
These factors combined to see him miss Monday morning’s flight to the Saudi capital, which is the city of his birth. Al Ain were quick to offer an official explanation.
The 2002/03 winners tweeted: “Al Ain is missing the captain of the team, Omar Abdulrahman, because of a lack of physical readiness required following his failure to participate in the last two matches because of suspension.
“According to the vision of coach Zoran Mamic, he preferred to maintain the policy of letting one of the stars of the team recover.”
Al Ain were soundly beaten 3-0 on aggregate by Hilal in the late summer’s 2017 ACL quarter-finals.
Twelve months ago, Ten Cate prioritised the AGL over the premier Asian club competition with the Dutchman naming a weakened team for their group matches.
While they suffered a group stage exit, the Pride of Abu Dhabi went from strength to strength in the league to claim their second-ever AGL title in April.
This season, they have struggled with injuries and consistency and with a gap of 16 points separating his side and AGL leaders Al Ain, Ten Cate says the AFC Champions League is a priority in 2018.
“This an important game for us,” he said ahead of Jazira’s opening match against Qatar’s Al Gharafa on Monday night.
“The Arabian Gulf League is gone for us and this is one of the challenges we want to focus on. We want to go into the next stage and a good start will help us. We have to focus on this game and win it. We have to do that with our young boys. So far none of my boys have disappointed me, in fact they have surprised us.
“The Champions League is our main target. This is very important for the club. Of course, I would love to do that with a full squad but due to circumstances we cannot do this. We are ready for tomorrow.”
Jazira will be making their 10th appearance in this competition and will be aiming to get back to winning ways in Asia after failing to win a single match (nine losses and three draws) in 2016 and 2017. The last time they tasted success in the continent was in 2014 against Qatar’s Al Rayyan.
And Ten Cate is eager to end the drought, saying it’s crucial to get three points because they are playing at home.
“It is the first game in the series and it is always important,” said the 63-year-old. “A win will do a lot but same goes for Al Gharafa, they will go for a win as well. I think for us it is more of a necessity than for them. I hope it will be a nice game and hopefully be will be on the right side of the score.
“But I feel really confident as the team is in a good shape. We played a very good last game in the AGL and the young kids proved me right that they are ready. So we’re pretty confident.”
While Jazira faced Spanish giants and eventual winners Real Madrid in the Club World Cup semi-finals and also competed in both the President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup, Ten Cate has spoken of issues affecting the team.
But he insists there is no need to motivate his players prior to Monday’s clash, saying each player is eager to claim all three points.
“It is a day to day work of every coach to motivate the players,” said the former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant. “There are games which are difficult to motivate but this is an easy game (to get motivated). I don’t need to motivate them because this comes within themselves. Tomorrow will be the start of the new period in Al Jazira in the Asian Championship with good result.”
While Ten Cate has analysed video footage of his opponents, the match will see one familiar face line up for Al Gharafa.
“They (Al Gharafa) are a good team and have good players,” he said. “One of them was my player (Wesley Sneijder) when he was with Ajax before moving to Real Madrid. I spoke to him last night, not about the game but because of our friendship.”
Al Wahda will be without hotshot Sebastian Tagliabue for Monday’s Champions League opener against Lokomotive Tashkent but head coach Laurentiu Reghecampf is confident his side can claim all three points.
Tagliabue, 32, did not travel to the Uzbekistani capital on Sunday morning with Reghecampf leaving him out of the match squad altogether.
The Romanian coach said the Argentine was among the players to miss out on the game due to “small issues” but while he is wary of the task against the Tashkent, feels he has enough quality up front to deal with his absence.
— Al Wahda FC الوحدة (@AlWahdaFCC) February 10, 2018
“I think it will be a difficult game for us because it’s the first game of the tournament,” he said. “We have some small issues with some of our players so we have decided not to bring them here. But I’m confident that we can get a positive result.”
The Clarets go into their game against the Uzbek League champions, sitting second in the Arabian Gulf League and still in contention for President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup glory.
Last season, Wahda exited the competition in the group stage and Hungarian playmaker Balázs Dzsudzsák is fully aware his team will need to be at the top of their game to get their campaign off to a winning start.
“For sure it’s going to be a difficult game,” he said. “It will be difficult conditions to play in. It’s a small pitch but it will be a good experience. Hopefully we can get a good result tomorrow.”