Al Wasl’s awful results in the Arabian Gulf League will not “fool” defending champions Al Ain, according to defender Mohamed Ahmed.
A chasm of 14 points and nine places separate the joint leaders – along with Sharjah and Al Jazira – from Monday night’s relegation-threatened hosts at Zabeel Stadium. This represents a dramatic decline for the Cheetahs, who finished third last term.
“Al Wasl’s results this season will not fool us,” said Ahmed. “This is because they have excellent players in their squad, but they did not appear at their best during the league.
“In the Zayed Champions Cup, they played distinguished teams [Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad and Egypt’s Al Ahly] and fought to make the quarter-finals of the competition.
“We will be keen to deal with high concentration during our next game and I hope that we will win the three points, with all respect for the ambitions of the opposing team.
“Al Ain and Al Wasl are certainly the two biggest teams in the UAE and I believe that the presence of Al Ain’s supporters is an important motivation for the team to achieve strong results.”
The Boss’ charge to earn a fifth top-flight win in six matches has been hindered by the continued absences of UAE midfielders Amer Abdulrahman and Rayan Yaslam.
Wasl will hope that Caio Canedo is fit to feature. The Brazilian striker scored a superb long-range leveller in last week’s 1-1 draw at Sharjah for his seventh goal in 11 2018/19 AGL matches, but received a head knock.
إيماناً بدور الجماهير، فقد أطلقت إدارة النادي مبادرة #المدرج_الأصفر والمتمثلة في دخول المشجعين الذين يرتدون قميص الفريق الأساسي الذي أنتجته شركة نيو بالانس مدرجات الدرجة الثانية بشكل مجاني طوال مباريات الفريق المحلية هذا الموسم، رغبة في خلق مدرج أصفر في مباريات الفريق في زعبيل. pic.twitter.com/FJ1f2rlCM1— Al Wasl SC (@AlWaslSC) December 2, 2018
Meanwhile, coach Fabio Viviani has told his Ittihad Kalba charges they must not take anything for granted when they look to arrest their slump against bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah.
The yo-yo club’s seven-match winless run has seen them drop down to ninth in the table, just four points above the relegation zone. This is a better state of affairs than the sorry visitors to Ittihad Kalba Stadium, who have won just one of their 11 fixtures.
“We have a strong and difficult game against Dibba,” said ex-AC Milan midfielder Viviani.
“Most teams in the league are close in both points and levels of performance. The game will not be as easy as some think.
“We should focus on the game and not pay attention to the difference in the table.”
The night’s final match sees Al Wahda’s temporary boss Al Hay Juma look to continue his winning start when undefeated Sharjah come to the capital.
Juma beat Ajman 2-1 last week in his first match since Laurentiu Reghecampf was dismissed after five winless matches.
Al Nasr have sacked coach Ivan Jovanovic for a second time after a mixed start to the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League and promoted title-winning former Brazil Under-17 coach Caio Zanardi to be his replacement.
Jovanovic, 56, was brought back to the Blue Wave last January as replacement for ex-Italy tactician Cesare Prandelli. This followed a triumphant previous spell in charge from June 2013-October 2016 that included the end of a 25-year trophy drought with the 2014 GCC Club Cup, plus an Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup-double a season later.
Results have not matched the previous standard, despite the summer recruitment of ex-France midfielder Yohan Cabaye and former Spain striker Alvaro Negredo. Their first four top-flight matches in 2018/19 ended in defeat, while Friday’s terminal 1-0 reversal at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club left the big-spending club 10th.
Zanardi, 45, has now been moved up from technical director – a position he has held there in two periods. His previous jobs include winning the 2013 Toulon Tournament with a Brazil U-17 squad that featured now Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson.
“I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to Ivan Jovanovic,” said Nasr president Abdulrahman Obaid. “I also extend my best wishes to Caio Zanardi, the new coach of our first team.
“To all lovers and fans of the club, we will soon return to our natural position among the top clubs.”
Zanardi held his first training session on Sunday, ahead of promoted side Fujairah’s visit to Dubai on Tuesday in the AGL.
Al Jazira’s caretaker boss Damien Hertog was thrilled from “all different angles” after the Arabian Gulf League’s new joint-leaders battered Emirates Club 6-0.
A trademark hat-trick from UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout – that included a comically effortless chip – and a trio of his own from assist-king Khalfan Mubarak saw relegation-threatened opponents ruthlessly put to the sword at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. This result, allied with Sharjah’s 1-1 draw at Al Wasl and Al Ain’s 4-0 dispatching of Dibba Al Fujairah, created a three-way tie at the top.
This emphatic scoreline also put the Pride of Abu Dhabi first in the scoring charts, plus continued the positive strides made in last week’s impressive 2-1 derby win at Al Wahda.
“I am very delighted with the performance,” said Hertog, whose won both top-flight matches since fellow Dutchman Marcel Keizer was poached by Sporting Lisbon after only five months in charge. “I give big compliments to my team.
“After big games, we had dropped points against teams that are lower in the league. This time, we succeeded in the mission to get the three point – well deserved, obviously.
“There was some very good attacking play and very nice goals. They showed their great football.
“All compliments to the team. It also gives you an opportunity when 4-0 up to give other players, who work hard in training during the week, a chance with the team.
“From all different angles, I am very delighted with this game.”
Mabkhout and Mubarak are fuelling an unlikely title charge by Jazira.
The former overtook Sharjah’s Welliton at the top of the scoring charts, moving onto 13 goals in 11 run-outs. Mubarak’s solitary assist on Friday night was his ninth of the campaign – three more than anyone else.
These emphatic displays are a contrast to 2017/18’s woeful title defence, when off-the-field issues bled into the results.
Despite a promising opening few months, Hertog is not taking anything for granted.
“We never spoke about competing for the title, so far,” said the ex-Feyenoord Under-19s tactician. “We speak about playing well and playing our game.
“If we want to be a big team, you have to win the games against the bigger teams and the smaller teams. If you can keep on doing this, still unbeaten in the league, then we can take it all the way.”
Hertog has carried on the fine work started by Keizer in the capital. With no announcement made about a permanent successor to the former, is the status quo likely to remain for the rest of 2018/19?
“No, no news,” he replied, while laughing, when asked about an extended stay. “It’s a quick answer.”
Jazira next travel to third-bottom Al Dhafra on Tuesday.