Al Ahli boss Cosmin Olaroiu is worried his sizeable UAE contingent will suffer a hangover from their World Cup 2018 misery when they battle Al Shabab in Saturday night’s Arabian Gulf Cup final.
Eight members of the squad which lost 2-0 to Japan and Australia during the international break returned to club duty with the Red Knights on Thursday.
They completed the 14-hour flight back from Sydney in dejected mood, with the Whites’ hopes of making Russia next year in ruins and long-term mentor Mahdi Ali resigning.
This has added complexity to a clash at Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium in which Olaroiu’s Arabian Gulf League champions should be heavily favoured against last term’s defeated Cup finalists, judging by their recent dismal run of two wins in 16 matches under two different coaches.
“Certainly, the psychological state because of the diminished chances of the UAE team to qualify is something which is difficult for the players, as well as the physical effort given in their two matches against Japan and Australia,” the 47-year-old Romanian bemoaned.
“I think they had two tough games. But you should be fully prepared to play a final. How can we do that in just two days for a match of this size? I do not think that these conditions will offer a good show for the public.”
The decision by the floundering Hawks in January to ditch Dutch tactician Fred Rutten and bring in Valencia stalwart Miroslav Djukic has not elicited in an upturn in results.
Under the Serbian, they have conceded 16 goals in just five matches from which they have lost four and drawn one.
Shabab headed to Doha during the top-flight’s sojourn for a brief training camp, in which they played out a goalless draw with Al Gharafa last Friday. Djukic hoped this break would have an enlivening effect.
“This is the most important game of the season for Al Shabab and we will try to win,” said the 51-year-old. “We play a team of high potential and the game will not be easy.
“The team worked hard in the outside camp and it was completed in a readiness to win. The team has done well since the beginning of this tournament and we will try to ignore the past negative results. The biggest pressure is on the Al Ahli, because they are the favourites to win.”
Fitness problems are not the sole reserve of the Red Knights. An ankle knock means 10-goal AG Cup top scorer and Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor is a serious doubt for Shabab.
“Luvannor is suffering from an ankle problem and we do not know if he is ready to play, but we will wait until the day of the match to decide,” said Djukic. “But the team does not depend on one player.”
A goal inside 13 seconds from Brazilian anchorman Denilson was enough to condemn Shabab to defeat against Al Wahda in this fixture a year ago. Occasional UAE full-back Manei Mohamed, 27, was convinced hard graft this evening will create a different outcome.
He said: “Cup matches are all about performance inside the pitch. We worked hard to get to the final and we must continue working hard to become champions.”
For Ahli centre-back Salmeen Khamis, he wanted to reward his club’s fan with a third AG Cup-win.
“We are working to please our supporters by beating Al Shabab and winning the title,” said the 25-year-old about this repeat of 2011/12’s decider. “The fans have been behind us all season, and we have to pay them back.”
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