Coach Juan Carlos Garrido will demand another show of unity at divided Al Ain when Rui Faria’s Al Duhail visit for a must-win 2019 AFC Champions League clash.
The troubled Boss sit bottom of a demanding Group C, although a limp campaign gained fresh impetus a fortnight ago at the same opponent when a 2-2 draw was salvaged from two goals down.
BAD VIBES AT THE BOSS
To say the interim period between continental dates has been eventful for Al Ain would be an almighty understatement.
In chronological order, the UAE’s most-decorated club have; produced a record-breaking 4-0 home defeat to mid-table Ajman, a heroic 2-2 draw at unbeaten Arabian Gulf League leaders Sharjah with a youthful side and issued internal bans for forwards Caio and Ruben Ribeiro for their Instagram “clown” jibes at Garrido. Keeping up?
The ex-Villarreal supremo must utilise all his experience to notch a first ACL win against venerable opposition. No small task.
KIDS ARE ALRIGHT?
Garrido has been publicly backed by the 2002/03 winners’ board, despite mutinous sections of the squad holding a contemptuous view of Zoran Mamic’s February replacement.
This war will soon be lost, however, if a four-match winless run is extended on Tuesday at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Selection is key.
Ex-Sporting Lisbon playmaker Ribeiro was not registered for the ACL, so Mali marauder Tongo Doumbia comes in. An easy call.
Does Garrido now stick with kids like unheralded full-back Ali Mohammed who shone at Sharjah, or recall heavyweights like Sweden striker Marcus Berg?
Getting the blend right is essential – and awkward.
DUHAIL’S SHOCK DOWNTURN
Qatar forward Almoez Ali’s historic exploits at Asian Cup 2019, Faria’s January call to take a first managerial post plus the big-money additions of Morocco centre-back Mehdi Benatia and Japan playmaker Shoya Nakajima made Duhail, ostensibly, a team to fear.
Reality, however, has been different. A dreary 3-4-3 formation, painful concession of the Qatar Stars League crown to Xavi’s Al Sadd and a mixed ACL start has followed.
Make no mistake, second-placed Duhail require a result just like Al Ain. An intriguing clash awaits.
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.