Al Jazira coach Walter Zenga has defended goalkeeper Ali Khaseif in the wake of his side’s 4-4 draw with Abu Dhabi neighbours Al Wahda.
Jazira led 3-0 at half-time and 4-2 in the Abu Dhabi derby before succumbing to Eisa Santo’s injury-time header after their visitors had been reduced to 10 men.
Zenga admitted his side had made mistakes in the game, but blamed mental fatigue following a run of four games in 11 days rather than individual errors. And when questioned about the UAE No1 – who has conceded nine goals in those four matches – he launched a staunch defence of his custodian.
“Ali saved two penalties [against Al Dhafra] to give us the League Cup final, another time Ali made a great save and permitted us to draw in Tehran [versus Esteghlal],” Zenga said.
However, the former Italy international goalkeeper admitted that he was planning to give Khaseif a rest in Jazira’s next game, against Al Nasr on Thursday. Back-up keeper Khaled Al Senaani, who kept a clean sheet in his last appearance against Wahda in the League Cup, is set to play at the Al Maktoum Stadium.
Senaani, who spent last season on loan at Al Dhafra, would have played in the League Cup semi-final against his former club had he not picked up a slight injury while training in Saudi Arabia, following Al Jazira’s 3-1 AFC Champions League win over Al Shabab a fortnight ago.
“Next game already I have the idea to play Senaani,” Zenga added. “Just in my mind the next game, the fifth game in 15 days, the idea was to play Senaani against Al Nasr in Nasr Stadium.
“Senaani is going to play the next game in Nasr’s stadium, not because of the mistakes of the keeper (Khaseif ) but just already it was in the programme that there will be a change.”
Meanwhile, Wahda coach Jose Peseiro has told his side to believe in themselves more after second-half heroics at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
Wahda have lost just once in their last 13 Arabian Gulf League games, but currently languish sixth having been guilty of drawing too many matches this season.
“I said to my players, when my team plays like a team together they can beat anyone,” he said. “Without organisation, without demand, we can lose against anyone also.”
Peseiro added: “When I say we played very bad, it’s my responsibility because I didn’t do something well and give my team focus, or good organisation, but that is football.”
Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic insists he is “optimistic” his side can still end their season on a high.
The Boss slipped to a seventh defeat of the season last night against Al Ahli that leaves them in the bottom half, eight points behind fourth-placed Sharjah.
It was also the third time the Red Knights had beaten them in as many games this season, with a fourth meeting to come in the President’s Cup final on May 18.
However, Dalic does not believe the latest loss will have any bearing on that match, while he thinks an extended run in the AFC Champions League can also help save the team’s season.
He said: “We have two targets. One is to target the next round of the Asian Champions League, to take first or second position in our group.
“The second target is final of President’s Cup and we also need to play our best in the league. But I’m optimistic because the second half showed what we can do; but we also need luck and we need time.”
Dalic proclaimed himself happy despite defeat, given the fight hisside showed after going two goals behind early in the second half.
The Croatian coach admitted it had been his plan to play conservatively until after half-time, mainly because he was without a number of his more influential players – including Omar Abdulrahman, his brother Mohamed, Mirel Radoi and Alex Brosque.
The two Abdulrahmans came on in the second period. However, their coach stressed caution, particularly where Omar is concerned.
“My players weren’t ready 100 per cent, especially Omar and some other players who can make a difference,” Dalic added. “At this moment Omar can’t play all game, it was my decision for him to start the second half.
“We need to prepare Omar for the Asian Champions League and also final of the President’s Cup. I can’t put him in the first minute and then destroy him, but you see what Omar means to my team.”
Cosmin Olaroiu made a winning return to Al Ain and the domestic game as a Grafite brace helped Al Ahli secure a 3-2 victory in a pulsating clash at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Allowed back onto the bench for the first time in four months in UAE football with his Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) appeal pending, the Romanian watched the Brazilian hand his side a two-goal lead early in the second half.
Asamoah Gyan pulled a goal back from the spot before substitute Ahmed Khalil appeared to have sewn up the win in stoppage time.
However there was still time for Ismail Ahmed to head home a second for Al Ain, while the centre-back could only nod over from Omar Abdulrahman’s cross deep into injury time.
It was a breathless ending to a fast-paced and often fractious 90 minutes, and on the balance of play Ahli deserved a win that keeps them six points clear of Al Shabab at the top of the Arabian Gulf League.
Indeed, it was fitting that Olaroiu would take his place in the dugout for the first time in domestic football at the ground he would have called home had he not left Al Ain last summer.
And the Romanian was spared the hostile reception he may have expected at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium with the away bench located in front of media and Ahli VIPs.
It may have been different had been asked to turn left instead of right at the end of the tunnel but as it was Olaroiu was met by only a smattering of boos.
That would change during a first-half that saw his side take a firm grip on the game though.
There had been just one goal in 180 minutes of action between the sides this season prior to last night, but it took Hugo Viana less than two minutes to fire a warning shot for the visitors.
Ismail Al Hammadi saw an early penalty appeal waved away before his effort from a Viana corner was diverted to safety. Majed Hassan also threatened with a dipping drive from 20 yards.
Yassine El Ghanassy was the hosts’ brightest spark but as the half wore so did the frustration of the Belgian and Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan as their side continued to fall flat.
And when their visitors took the lead, it was no real surprise. A rapid counter attack down the Red Knights’ right-hand side freed full-back Abdulaziz Haikal into the box, where he was brought down by Boss goalkeeper Khalid Essa.
The former Al Jazira man was booked by referee Yaqoub Al Hammadi before Grafite stepped up to confidently fire Ahli into the lead from 12 yards.
If his first goal was straight forward then his second was impossible to miss. Less than two minutes after the break, Viana’s corner bobbled into Grafite’s path and from all of two yards he bundled it in.
It was not the start to the second half the hosts would wanted but it seemed to shake them into life.
Ibrahim Diaky had a volley deflected behind for a corner, while the introduction of Mohamed and Omar Abdulrahman sparked their attacking play. But Ismail Ahmed appeared to have squandered their chance of getting back into the game as he headed over unmarked from eight yards with 22 minutes remaining.
That, though, was before referee Al Hammadi awarded a second penalty, this time to the Boss, for an innocuous looking challenge from goalkeeper Saif Yousif on Ismail Ahmed.
Coming seconds after Ismail Al Hammadi was booked while being substituted it brought sarcastic applause from Olaroiu but Gyan had no problems dispatching from the spot.
And with the mood in the ground lifted, the Boss went on the attack. Gyan tumbled under pressure from Salmeen Khamis but saw his penalty appeals turned away and in the final 10 minutes the pressure on the Ahli goal became incessant as the heat was turned up.
With the clock ticking past 90 minutes, Khalil looked to have made the game safe with a calm finish past Essa but that was before Ismail Ahmed almost ruined Olaroiu’s return.