Al Nasr coach Ivan Jovanovic has challenged his troops to bank the feel-good factor from their Arabian Gulf Cup double and use it to halt an awful start in the top flight.
Much was expected of the reshaped Blue Wave when the Arabian Gulf League kicked off last month, but a side containing ex-France midfielder Yohan Cabaye slipped to a disappointing opening 1-0 home loss to Ajman.
The international break then witnessed a morale-boosting pair of wins in the Cup against Emirates Club and Al Ain.
“Despite the differences in the competition and the different motivations of each team, winning two-consecutive matches gives the players more confidence to correct the poor start against Ajman in the first round,” said Jovanovic, whose team travels to Sharjah on Friday.
“Every game is a new test for the team. Our ambition is always to win.
“We have to fight in every game to continue the victories and invest momentum that the team has earned.”
Friday’s other fixtures are headlined by an early relegation battle between promoted Ittihad Kalba and visitors Emirates.
17:35 Ittihad Kalba v Emirates Club
17:35 Dibba Al Fujairah v Al Wahda
20:15 Bani Yas v Al Wasl
20:15 Sharjah v Al Nasr
17:35 Al Ain v Al Dhafra
17:40 Al Jazira v Fujairah
20:15 Ajman v Shabab Al Ahli
UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni is “very brave” for taking the pragmatic decision to ditch the faltering Asian Cup hosts’ usual tactics for Tuesday’s pressure-relieving 3-0 friendly win against Laos, according to goalkeeper Ali Khaseif.
The Whites supremo’s position came under intense scrutiny after Thursday’s demoralising 2-0 reversal to undercooked Trinidad and Tobago made it five matches without victory.
A switch away from his trademark 3-4-1-2 formation to the Arabian Gulf League’s ubiquitous 4-2-3-1 resulted in a double from Al Jazira hot shot Ali Mabkhout and thunderbolt from 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman.
“There is no team in the Arabian Gulf League playing three at the back,” said Pride of Abu Dhabi skipper Khaseif, who was restored to the international XI. “We tried to accommodate the plan, but couldn’t apply it.
“We do not want to put the blame on the coach or the players, as we are all in one boat.
“Everyone saw how Zaccheroni changed the plan after the Trinidad game and everyone saw how that reflected in today’s game. It is not a shame that the trainer is changing things.
“I think it’s very brave and it is rare to find a coach who can give up his plan and change it.”
Preparations for January’s continental competition will continue with further friendlies against Honduras on October 11 and Venezuela on October 16. The UAE will again be based in Barcelona.
Zaccheroni revealed this step-up in class has been designed to gently move his squad into peak condition.
He said: “We deliberately chose weak teams because the main goal at the beginning of the camp is to build up the identity of the team and the way of the game. We chose humble opponents to apply the required players.
“Our performance [against Laos] was distinctive, the lines converged and we applied high pressure, I am satisfied. We created many opportunities and didn’t convert them, but we will work on that for coming matches.”
Former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Internazionale assistant Rui Faria’s first steps into senior management could be taken with the UAE after he emerged as a potential candidate to replace Alberto Zaccheroni if preparations for the 2019 Asian Cup remain troubled.
Faria, 43, worked alongside manager Jose Mourinho for the past 17 years before he decided to “move on” at the end of last season. The Portuguese cited a desire to spend more time with his family, before “pursuing any new challenges”.
This stance could lead the respected coach – who lifted 25 trophies alongside ‘The Special One’ – to Al Khawaneej. Summer links to the No1 roles at Benfica and Sporting Lisbon came to nought.
The UAE Football Association issued a public of vote of confidence about Zaccheroni after last week’s alarming 2-0 friendly defeat to Trinidad and Tobago. But with less than four months to go until they host the continental competition, panic has set in about the build-up.
Legendary former Al Jazira tactician Henk ten Cate is chief among potential suitors for the role. Al Ain’s double-winner Zoran Mamic had to issue a denial on Saturday about links to Zaccheroni’s position.
Faria does not boast any managerial experience. He has, however, worked successfully at many of Europe’s biggest clubs and helped guide many of the sport’s biggest names.
This pedigree could appeal to the UAE FA if Zaccheroni is removed before the Asian Cup opener on January 5 against Bahrain at Zayed Sports City.