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.”
UAE veteran Ali Karim has revealed he and his team-mates have their “hearts set on” creating history, ahead of their 2017 Beach Soccer World Cup campaign kicking off (Saturday 04:00 UAE time).
The Whites have headed to the Bahamas for a fifth tournament, determined to make it past the group stage for the first time. Standing in the way of the 36-year-old and his colleagues in Group C are holders Portugal, 2017 CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship winners Panama and ex-coach Guga’s Paraguay – whom they open the tournament against.
But such opponents will hold little fear, after a sterling runners-up spot was secured at last month’s AFC Beach Soccer Championship.
“When we got back home we didn’t rest,” Karim told FIFA.com about the qualifying event in Malaysia. “We stepped up our training for the World Cup, especially when we found out who we were playing.
“I think we’ll do well because of the skill levels we’ve got now.
“We can make it to the second round and we’ve got our hearts set on it. We’re excited at the idea of another major achievement.”
Karim made his international debut a decade ago, just before the 2007 event.
He said: “I didn’t think I’d be able to make the switch from grass to fine sand but I found my way.
“My passion has only grown over the years. We’ve got a blend of experienced players and motivated youngsters and we can now go further than we’ve ever gone before.”
UAE’s Group C fixtures
Bani Yas coach Abdulwahab Abdulqadir is optimistic his players will gain inspiration from meeting the club chairman and keep their slim relegation hopes alive, beginning with Friday’s must-win match against Al Nasr.
The bottom side travel to the President’s Cup finalists, knowing they must pick up maximum points from their remaining three matches and retain faith results go their way if they want to preserve their spot in the Arabian Gulf League. The Sky Blues, who drew their last two matches, were addressed by chairman Ahmed Nasser Al Raisi earlier this week and Abdulqadir wanted his words to be taken on board.
“He gave a speech to the players and he requested them to double their efforts for this match,” he said. “As coach, I hope they can be inspired by his visit at the training ground because there’s still hope.”
Ittihad Kalba and Dibba Al Fujairah sit directly above the drop zone, both on 18 points – five more than Bani and Emirates Club. Wins for either will secure their top-flight status.
Yo-yo club Kalba face a pivotal clash at second-bottom Emirates, while Dibba – who haven’t triumphed in five games – host high-flying Al Wasl.
Al Shabab boss Miroslav Djukic will be looking for a debut victory at the 10th time of asking in all competitions, at home to Al Dhafra.
18:00 Al Shabab v Al Dhafra
20:45 Dibba Al Fujairah v Al Wasl
20:45 Emirates Club v Ittihad Kalba
20:45 Al Nasr v Bani Yas
18:00 Hatta v Al Jazira
18:00 Al Ahli v Sharjah
20:45 Al Ain v Al Wahda