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.