Life is never simple when Al Jazira are involved.
A place in the 2016 AFC Champions League was earned in dramatic circumstances last night, Xavi’s Al Sadd being seen off in a shootout which followed a heart-stopping penalty miss past 90 minutes for the visitors in normal time.
Chaos is a close-friend of the Pride of Abu Dhabi, as anyone who witnessed the 2-2 draw and subsequent 5-4 triumph at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium would attest.
They must make full use of this victorious moment to kick the habit and embrace stability.
This is the least Henk ten Cate deserves. Only a now-unlikely relegation from the Arabian Gulf League would justify making the veteran Dutchman the eighth coach to depart since summer 2011 once his short term deal runs out at the end of the season.
Stability is the way forward and an extension should be forthcoming, even if Group C provides a tough experience against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Iran’s Tractor Sazi. Al Nasr proved it with Ivan Jovanovic and so have 2015 ACL finalists Al Ahli, who stuck with Cosmin Olaroiu despite a woeful domestic campaign last term.
Jazira are in the midst of their own wretched run. This wound was self-inflicted, Belgian boss Eric Gerets being recklessly jettisoned despite finishing second in favour of Abel Braga – who proved woefully out of touch upon his return to the club with whom he dominated from 2008-11.
Ten Cate is picking up the pieces. His experience from various roles at the likes of Ajax, Barcelona and Chelsea is coming through, with Sunday’s trip to Al Shabab – who tasted continental elimination yesterday – an opportunity to continue the rise from ninth in the standings.
This approach should be replicated with the four-player foreign quota. The Pride of Abu Dhabi switch their allotment around with impunity, treating the transfer market like a play thing.
It was all change during pre-season, while playmaker Angel Lafita and Cardiff City loanee Kenwyne Jones – a necessary replacement for the injured Mirko Vucinic – came in last month. Brazilian playmaker Thiago Neves is yet to shine like he did at Hilal, though he should relish meeting them again once the pool action gets under way in the competition proper.
There is no doubt they should hold on to South Korea defensive midfielder Park Jong-woo. The recruit from Guangzhou R&F rattled maestro Xavi repeatedly at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, his diligence earning reward in the shootout when the former Barcelona midfielder blazed over the Qatari giants’ first effort.
Yet similar praise could have been afforded to winger Jonathan Pitroipa, who is currently excelling for third-placed Al Nasr. Argentine playmaker Manuel Lanzini is also shining on loan in the Premier League, where West Ham are close to tying up a permanent deal. Go further back and veteran striker Ricardo Oliveira has recently earned a recall to Brazilian side Santos, while Argentina midfielder Matias Delgado is captain of Swiss heavyweights FC Basel.
Ten Cate and his current troops now deserve something their predecessors weren’t afforded – patience. This is still the case even if the President’s Cup provides a early exit and they do not make the ACL knockout stages. The Jazira hierarchy will be pleasantly surprised at what follows.
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Player of the week
Nilmar (Al Nasr)
It has not been plain sailing for the Brazil striker at the Blue Wave, but his opportunistic hat-trick was worthy of high praise. Each of his goals in the 4-1 thrashing of Sharjah exhibited the cunning absent in most of his other displays. More of the same is required.
Goal of the week
Omar Abdulrahman (Al Ain)
In a game of high-quality goals, ‘Amoory’ – as always – stole the show. His dipping free-kick was laced with importance, gaining the Abu Dhabi derby spoils against Al Wahda and keeping the Boss top of the table. The bewildering movement on the 25-yard effort was Ronaldinho-esque.
Coach of the week
Walter Zenga (Al Shaab)
The long wait is over. Finally, at the 17th time of asking the bottom-placed Commandos have tasted victory. This was a moment to cherish for Zenga. His team were expertly drilled in defence and looked a real threat on
the counter-attack through January buy Ze Eduardo.
Where now for Mabkhout?
How much longer should Al Jazira front man Ali Mabkhout remain in the confines of the UAE? This is the question facing the potential trailblazer, who re-issued his commitment to the Pride of Abu Dhabi after earlier in the week being quoted – once again – in the Arabic media as wanting an imminent move away to Europe. What is clear after another lethal hat-trick against Dibba Al Fujairah is that the 2015 Asian Cup top scorer has the potential to excel in the old continent. At 25, it’s his time to seize the moment.
Al Shaab boss Walter Zenga has challenged his bottom-placed troops to believe the impossible after they finally broke their Arabian Gulf League duck.
The Commandos tasted top-flight victory at the 17th time of asking on Saturday when they saw off fellow strugglers Al Dhafra 2-0.
They still sit 12 points from safety, but with their President’s Cup campaign about to start Zenga hoped the victory could act as a watershed moment.
“I don’t want to talk about the numbers or percentages, although it is a correct question,” said the ex-Al Ain, Al Nasr and Al Jazira supremo when probed on the chances of guiding his marooned side to safety.
“For example, we have on February 26 a match in the President’s Cup (against Dibba Al Fujairah).
“If we want to arrive there in the right way we must prepare ourselves against Al Wasl and most importantly, Sharjah. This is a derby.
“If we prepare in the right way, we can take some satisfaction until the end of the season. Then, never it is impossible in life.
“Of course, it is difficult. But in my opinion, you can never say never.”
The loss was a blow to second-bottom Dhafra, who face key clashes against Emirates Club and Al Jazira before the end of the month.
“Shaab were not only good because of their own performance level, it was also because we didn’t play well,” said disappointed coach Mohammed Kwid.
“We gave our opponents too much space in the field to play and make moves.
“We didn’t deserve to win in this game, but we deseved to draw at least.
“We take this game as a lesson for the future, which will help to start making better results.”