Al Ain boss Zlatko Dalic has told his daydreaming players they must cut out sloppy errors if they want to enjoy a victorious opening to their 2016 AFC Champions League campaign against El Jaish.
The reigning UAE champions relinquished top spot in the to Al Ahli at the weekend after struggling Al Shabab twice hit them on the counter to inflict a shock 2-1 defeat.
The Boss host opposition from the Qatar Stars League as Group D gets under way and Dalic has demanded an improvement in concentration as he looks to improve on last year’s disappointing round-of-16 exit.
He said: “It’s a new competition, it’s different from the league. The players are ready for this competition, they know how special this is to Al Ain.
“We need to forget about what happened last year and focus on 2016. I have been in the Champions League for the last four years (at Al Ain and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal), I have experience, I know how we can pass. I’m just worrying because of mistakes.
“In the last game (against Al Shabab), for each personal mistake we paid the price. And we must not make personal mistakes.
“We didn’t deserve to lose in the last game. But I agree it is not an easy time now for us.
“It would be better if we played against El Jaish after a win, but we need to get back to winning ways and to win the next game because we have many games coming up and this is the first game in the Champions League.”
UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem reinforced his coach’s message and vowed that the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium crowd would be treated to a better display.
He said: “We have made mistakes previously, but the coach sits with us and we are working to avoid these mistakes. I know the fans were not happy with our last (game), so we promise to be better.”
The 2003 winners are hotly-tipped to impress this year, with anything but a repeat of 2014’s run to the semi-finals being considered a failure. UAE Under-23 defensive midfielder Ahmed Barman is set to return from injury, but Colombian flyer Danilo Asprilla will be out for the next three to four weeks with a hamstring complaint.
A positive result is a must against a side who sit a distant third in the QSL and lost 3-0 at the weekend to giants Lekhwiya. Jaish boss Sabri Lamouchi – a former France and Internazionale midfielder – paid Al Ain a compliment by calling them “the best team in the Middle East”.
He said: “We are very happy to be here because it is really impotant to play in the AFC Champions League.
“We know we will face the best team in the Middle East and it will be a very difficult game for us. It will be a very tough game and an important test.”
Former Marseille centre-back Lucas Mendes and nine-goal Uzbekistan midfielder Sardor Rashidov are both doubts for the visitors.
The Blue Wave exited at the group stage during their previous entries in 2012 and 2013. They already face an uphill struggle to better this record, a meak display at a bleak Foolad Shahr Stadium being punished by Brazilian striker Chimba’s fine brace.
The 32-year-old struck in both halves, smashing in an eye-catching opener from distance before making no mistake with a header from close range.
His efforts ended an appalling 11-match winless run for the reigning Persian Gulf Pro League champions and also made it five victories in five meetings for the Yellow Lions against Tuesday’s opposition in the ACL.
The result extended a worrying downwards trend for Nasr, who have now triumphed in just one of their last six fixtures. They will need to snap back to life on Saturday if their President’s Cup defence isn’t to falter at the first hurdle against Sharjah.
Nasr began in a daze, the decision to ditch disappointing Brazilian striker Nilmar not being rewarded. They had already survived an early penalty appeal as midfielder Amer Mubarak appeared to trip Iran Under-23 winger Hossein Fazeli by the time Chimba put them ahead on 13 minutes.
The former Foolad front man took advantage of being granted too much space 30 yards out, smashing in an effort off the underside of the crossbar. Nasr could not wake from their slumber and they were two-goals down before the hour mark, Chimba nodding in a Fazeli cross.
A weak Mahmoud Khamis free-kick was the third-placed Arabian Gulf League-side’s only effort of note, with fine interventions from centre-backs Ali Al Ameri and Khalifah Mubarak later twice denying Chimba a hat-trick.
Al Wasl will play the their final two home games of the 2015-16 Arabian Gulf League season at Dubai neighbours’ Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium while their Zabeel Stadium is renovated.
The Pro League Committee has approved the Cheetahs’ request to relocate in light of the maintenance and development work to be carried out at their home ground between now and the end of the season.
The announcement means Gabriel Calderon’s men will play their home games from round 23 of the AGL at their temporary new home, with Wasl facing both Sharjah and Dibba Al Fujairah at Al Maktoum on Saturday, April 16, and Saturday, April 30, respectively.
Elsewhere, the PLC has made other alterations to the AGL fixture list as a result of the decision to cancel the 2016 GCC Club Cup Championship, in which Bani Yas and Wasl were both due to participate. Changes have also been made in light of the fact the UAE now has three clubs competing in the 2016 AFC Champions League, with Al Jazira having qualified from the play-off stage after a 5-4 penalty shootout victory against Qatar’s Al Sadd earlier this month. Henk ten Cate’s side join reigning AGL champions and current leaders Al Ain and Presidents Cup holders Al Nasr in the group stages of the competition.
Elsewhere, the PLC has made other alterations to the AGL fixture list as a result of the decision to cancel the 2016 GCC Club Cup Championship, in which Bani Yas and Wasl were both due to participate.
Changes have also been made in light of the fact the UAE now has three clubs competing in the 2016 AFC Champions League, with Al Jazira having qualified from the play-off stage after a 5-4 penalty shootout victory against Qatar’s Al Sadd earlier this month.
Henk ten Cate’s side join reigning AGL champions and current leaders Al Ain and Presidents Cup holders Al Nasr in the group stages of the competition.