Al Jazira boss will “go all out” to qualify for the AFCCL knockout stages

Matt Jones - Editor 09:05 10/04/2017
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Henk Ten Cate.

Henk ten Cate insists Al Jazira will “go all out” to try and qualify for the AFC Champions League knockout stages now that just a second ever top-flight domestic title is within their grasp.

With Jazira on the cusp of claiming a first domestic championship in six years, Ten Cate insists his players will now throw caution to the wind in their remaining three continental games in a late bid to seal unlikely passage from Group B.

The Dutchman made no apologies for fielding weakened teams in their first three games in Asia – which have yielded three straight defeats to Esteghlal Khuzestan, Lekhwiya and Al Fateh.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi are one of just three of the competition’s 32 teams without a point so far, but the former Ajax coach plans to put that right tonight as they welcome Saudi Arabia’s Al Fateh to Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium tonight.

“Due to circumstances our participation in the Champions League so far was not what we really wanted it to be,” said Ten Cate.

“We couldn’t play the best and strongest team because our focus was on the domestic championship. We are now eight points ahead with four games to go (and) I think we can now take our chances to play a full-strength side against Al Fateh. I want to play the best possible team and win.

“We couldn’t play our best team in the ACL because every time we had to play big teams like Al Ain, Al Ahli and Al Wahda three days later in the domestic league. We don’t have a big roster of players and that means I had to make choices.

“We had a good chance of winning the local league after seven years and that’s what I decided to go for.”

Ten Cate has worked a near miracle to transform Jazira from relegation candidates when he arrived in Christmas 2015 to steer them to the security of mid-table last season.

They ended the 2015/16 campaign on a high with a penalty shootout victory in the President’s Cup final against Al Ain. But Ten Cate has surpassed expectations by bringing the Abu Dhabi giants to the verge of this season’s Arabian Gulf League title.

The trophy could be won as early as Saturday should they beat Emirates Club on Friday and current incumbents Al Ahli fail to win at Al Wahda the following day.

When asked if Jazira had a realistic chance of going beyond the group stage, Ten Cate said: “I did it before with Panathinaikos. We won the last three games and won the group, and why not with Jazira.

“For me, my main target this season was to win the league which we haven’t won for (six) years. We are very close to it. Now I can take a risk, but before, we couldn’t take that risk.

“This was my decision. Not the club nor the players. But now, we are close to winning the AGL, I can take the chance to go all out and win the last three games in the ACL.

“If we can win this game tomorrow, then we can focus on the remaining two for a passage to the next round.

“My honest opinion was that we had a chance of winning the domestic league than the ACL. This season, we are not ready to challenge for more than one competition. Hopefully next year, when we have a bigger squad of players.”

Fateh beat Jazira 3-1 a month ago but are struggling domestically, perched precariously in 12th place in the Saudi Pro League, a point above the relegation zone.

And coach Fathi Al Jabal is not expecting such an easy ride in the wake of Ten Cate’s revelation.

“It’s a very difficult match,” said the Tunisian.

“Every team have their own objectives in this competition and domestic league. We are in a critical position in the domestic league but we’ll try to balance between both.

“Fortunately, we have players who can perform in both the ACL and the domestic league. Jazira will not be an easy team now that their coach is prepared to field the best side.”

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