Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate has declared his dominant champions elect will “fight with all our strength” on Saturday at Hatta to finish the job early and end a six-year wait to claim the Arabian Gulf League’s crown.
A stunning 2016/17 campaign for the Pride of Abu Dhabi is guaranteed to be capped off with the title if they avoid defeat at a promoted side freshly assured of safety. Such a result would see them dethrone Al Ahli, whom they boast a superior head-to-head record against, with two matches to spare.
“There is no need to be reminded that this game is the most important of all, because a win or draw gives us the title,” said 62-year-old Ten Cate, who also turned down the Netherlands job this week.
“This is well deserved, plus all the players, administrators and technical staff have been looking forward to this day for quite some time. We will offer the best we have and fight with all our strength at Hatta until we get the result that we want and until we achieve this wonderful dream.
“All the players are ready, physically and mentally. All of them strongly want to participate in the match at Hatta.”
In possession of the best attack and second-meanest defence, it is hard to argue with Jazira’s ascension.
Gaining the club’s second top-flight trophy would continue ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant Ten Cate’s miraculous work. He took over relegation-threatened underachievers in December 2015, soon going on to lift last year’s President’s Cup.
The Dutchman was not expecting a simple task high up in the Hajar Mountains, memories of 28-goal leading marksman Ali Mabkhout’s last-gasp winner in December fresh in his mind.
He said: “Saturday’s game will not be easy in any way.
“I do not think that the fact they have ensured survival would weaken their motivation in front of Al Jazira.
“We expect a tough game, like that we played in front of them in our stadium.”
Meanwhile, coach Cosmin Olaroiu has sternly rejected reports he has agreed to swap Al Ahli for Al Ahli Jeddah, ahead of Saturday’s likely loss of the title.
The ex-Al Hilal supremo has been linked with a return to Saudi Arabia as Christian Gross’ replacement. Such a move would see the 47-year-old prematurely call time on a trophy-laden four-year spell at Rashid Stadium, following a season stained by institutional tumult.
“They are just rumours,” said Olaroiu, whose side must beat Sharjah and hope runaway leaders Al Jazira slip-up at Hatta. “I respect my contract with Al Ahli, which expires at the end of next season.”
Al Ain tactician Zoran Mamic has urged his stars to keep pushing for the top-three and 2018 AFC Champions League qualification when they welcome Al Wahda.
The Boss – who roared into the 2017 edition’s round of 16 with a 3-0 midweek win at Iran’ Zob Ahan – trail Al Wasl by two points following the previous humiliating 4-3 reversal against them when three-goals up.
“We are concentrating on the game versus Al Wahda and are fighting for third,” said Mamic, who will be without banned 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman. “We need all nine points left.”
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