Grateful Al Wahda boss Henk ten Cate is convinced ultimate predator Sebastian Tagliabue’s ability to net “anytime and anyplace” can fire his club past Qatar’s Al Rayyan and onto the cusp of a first knockout-stage run in the AFC Champions League for more than a decade.
A valuable come-from-behind 2-1 triumph last time out at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium – dramatically earned by Brazilian forward Leonardo in second-half injury time – against the same opponent propelled the Clarets top of Group B at the halfway stage.
Key to renewed hope of advancing for the first time since 2007’s charge into the semi-finals is their aforementioned Argentine striker. The evergreen 33-year-old has 21 goals in 21 Arabian Gulf League matches this term, netted the leveller in Doha a fortnight ago and struck in November 2017’s 5-1 rout when the clubs last met in the capital.
“We have the best players in the front line and we have Tigali [Tagliabue’s nickname] who can score anytime and anyplace with the smallest of chances,” said Ten Cate, whose charges sit fifth in the UAE’s top flight. “I feel very confident that we will play a good game.”
Rayyan finished a distant fourth in the Qatar Stars League after a turbulent campaign. Avoiding defeat in Abu Dhabi is now a must for Group B’s third-placed side.
“Al Rayyan is a good team and they have a great team of players,” said Ten Cate.
“For them, this is the last chance to come back to compete in this group, and for us it is a great opportunity to take another step towards qualifying.”
Rayyan’s Venezuela centre forward Gelmin Rivas scored 13 times from 26 matches in a solitary AGL season at Sharjah in 2016/17.
Round 20 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Here are Sport360’°s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Habib Fardan (Al Nasr)
A resurgence continues for Fardan and his beloved Nasr.
The 28-year-old, back after four mixed years away, notched a header and deflected drive in a 3-1 victory versus Emirates Club. This capped off a strong personal run, which includes last month’s UAE recall.
For Nasr, that’s now three wins in a row under caretaker Caio Zanardi.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Nacer Barazite (Al Jazira)
Maybe Al Jazira and Manchester City share more than patronage by H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
A goal of startling quality in the 2-2 draw with Dibba Al Fujairah ended with five one-touch passes, before midfielder Nacer Barazite tapped the ball in. Sheer beauty.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Juan Carlos Garrido (Al Ain)
A show of defiance in the face of adversity from – recently diminished – Al Ain.
Injuries, poor form and disciplinary issues saw the sinking champions rock up at imminent usurpers Sharjah with a thrashing expected. Instead, a 2-2 draw – that ended a two-match losing streak – was laced with frustration as it included an 88th-minute leveller.
What’s wrong at Wasl?
Al Wasl should be checking the fine print of the renewal, worth $7 million, signed until 2021 by boss Laurentiu Reghecampf last month.
The surrender from three-goals up to draw 3-3 at second-bottom Fujairah ended a three-match winless run in the worst-possible manner.
After five years of progress, Wasl have taken troubling backwards steps. Reghecampf is yet to truly show he’s the man to lift them again.
Al Jazira head coach Damien Hertog says his team is more than capable of maintaining their recent momentum when they face Dibba in Friday’s Arabian Gulf League clash.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi welcome bottom-placed Dibba to Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium with the hosts looking to secure their third consecutive victory in the competition.
Hertog has been pleased with his side’s recent form and is confident his players will again excel and claim another three points.
“We got a very good result last week (4-2 win) against Ittihad Kalba in difficult conditions, which was a second straight victory and we want to continue this winning streak against Dibba,” Hertog said in his pre-match press conference.
“Winning games gives the whole squad confidence which is very important in football.
We have played some excellent football, creating a lot of chances and scoring goals. But we want to keep on improving as a team and raise our performances. The players are keen to get more good results and I am confident they can continue their good form and get the three points against Dibba.”
Although Dibba is bottom of the standings, they have won two of their last three matches and Hertog insists his team cannot afford to underestimate their opponents.
“Dibba will not be an easy match at all,” he said. “They have won a couple of games now so they will be confident. We will have to play our best football against them.”
Al Jazira will be without top-scorer Ali Mabkhout through suspension, as well as Ahmed Rabia, Adel Abubakr and Khalfan Mubarak, who are all injured.
Mabkhout has been prolific with 19 goals this season but Hertog believes there is plenty of firepower to deal with his absence.
“Ali Mabkhout is an experienced player who is the top-scorer in the league and anyone of that quality will be missed,” said the Dutchman. “But we have missed many key players before and this is a great challenge for other players to step up and show their attacking qualities by contributing with goals.”