Al Wahda face the unenviable task of needing to defeat Africa’s most-successful club, Al Ahly, on home soil without the services of suspended star striker Sebastian Tagliabue if they are to stay alive in the Arab Club Championship.
The Clarets endured a chastening start to the revitalised competition – back after a four-year break – on Saturday. They went down 2-0 to Algeria’s NA Hussein Dey, during an error-strewn match in which UAE playmaker Khalid Bawazir fractured his neck and Tagliabue was dismissed late on for stamping.
Cairo grandees Ahly are up next on Tuesday night. The record 39-time Egyptian Premier League champions are also on the rebound after they were surprisingly beaten 1-0 by Jordan’s Al Faisaly when Group A got under way.
“We know that the confrontation against Ahly will be very difficult because they have the greatest motivation to win the meeting,” said freshly-installed Wahda coach Laurentiu Reghecampf, who will be able to hand a debut to exciting Moroccan forward Mourad Batna.
“I am counting on raising the fitness of my players gradually and we will offer a strong challenge to Ahly. But we lost some players in the first game and these are negative factors.
“I have followed all the matches, but I do not care about the other teams.”
The versatile Batna, a summer signing from FUS Rabat after a successful loan at Emirates Club last term, will look to link-up with Hungary winger Balazs Dzsudzsak. There could be a change between the sticks after goalkeeper Rashed Ali committed egregious errors for both goals against Nasria.
The President’s Cup holders must hope Ahly crack under the pressure of their expectant supporters once again, a factor their general coach Ahmed Ayoub acknowledged.
He said: “We will fight in the remaining two matches in order to make the fans happy and qualify for the semi-finals.”
Goran Tufegdzic officially began his new job as Bani Yas head coach on Saturday and he has only one target in mind for his players for the upcoming season and that’s to win promotion to the Arabian Gulf League (AGL).
The Sky Blues will begin the 2017-18 term in the First Division League after failing to extend their eight-year stay in the top-flight following a dismal season.
Just three wins from 26 were registered throughout the entire campaign as they finished bottom of the AGL with 15 points, five away from safety.
Former Ittihad Kalba and Kuwait supremo Tufegdzic replaces club legend Abdulwahab Abdulqadir, who was the third coach in charge at the Bani Yas Stadium last season, and the Serbian has signaled his intention of an immediate return to the AGL at the first time of asking.
“Our team has just one target which is to qualify for the Arabian Gulf League,” said the 45-year-old, who has inked a one-year contract.
— Denzil M Pinto (@denz_360) July 22, 2017
“I am very happy to join this club but I have a very hard task ahead of me. I believe in this club and the players. This club really deserves to be in the top league and I am very optimistic of this club’s future. I am sure that we all will make this possible because the club has a good history of achievements.”
Although named as coach earlier this month, Tufegdzic has already done his homework on the squad and acknowledges the club will need to strengthen if they are to achieve their objective of claiming one of the two promotion spots.
“I have done some analysis on the players and it is important to get some players,” he said.
“Baniyas will also need some changes in the style of play because we must change how they play before.”
Australian midfielder Mark Milligan and Nigerian striker Ezekiel Henty have left the club this summer but Tufegdzic insists foreign duo Harry Novillo and French forward Jean Philippe Mendy remains in his team’s plans.
“They are very good players and have good ability to play in this team,” he said, adding that he had “no problem” with Al Shabab officials following the shock merger with Al Ahli and Dubai Cultural Sports Club in May that saw his unveiling press conference cancelled at the last minute.
Defeat in their final qualifier plus Sri Lanka’s withdrawal leaves the UAE in limbo as to whether they can reach next year’s AFC U-23 Championships.
The 2-0 loss saw Uzbekistan win Group D and book their ticket for next January’s tournament. But the UAE, who thrashed Nepal 5-0 in their opening game, could now see that result expunged as fears gather that the Lankan Lions pulling out could mean results against teams finishing bottom of each of the 10 groups will be chalked off.
That would leave the UAE, now left chasing one of five best runner-up spots, facing disaster with a -1 goal difference following last night’s loss.
In all likelihood two wins from three games should have been good enough to yield a place in China for Hassan Al Abdoli’s Whites, but they ceded their advantage at the top of Group B to Uzbekistan, who scored two late goals to win the group.
And the controversy surrounding Sri Lanka’s withdrawal heaps more misery on for the Whites.
After a lackluster first half, towering centre-back Islomjon Kobilov nodded Ravshan Khaydarov’s in front with 23 minutes remaining. And with the Whites visibly wilting in the Al Ain heat, Uzbek maverick Javokhir Sidikov rifled in an unstoppable second in added time to seal victory.
The UAE will now have to wait to find out their fate, with Group D the only one of 10 to have completed their quota of games. All other groups played their openers last night with the 16 teams to appear at the Championships decided on the final day on Sunday.
It was an opportunity missed for the hosts, who fell to defeat after two straight wins against Nepal and Lebanon.
Hosting a tournament in mid-July amid 40+ degree UAE heat hadn’t seemed the smartest idea and despite the game kicking off at 18:25, the humidity was not condusive to flowing football as both sides struggled for rhythm in a tepid opening 45 minutes.
The first attempt of any note didn’t arrive until the 43rd minute when Uzbekistan captain Zabikhillo Urinboev’s goal-bound header from Akramjon Komilov’s speculative cross was plucked out of the air by Al Ain goalkeeper and UAE skipper Mohammed Busanda.
Al Jazira forward Ahmed Al Attas then headed over before Bani Yas’ Suhail Al Noubi met a knockdown and rocketed a shot goalwards, which was impressively beaten away for a corner by Ergashev Botirali.
The second period was infinitely more memorable and Whites’ talisman Mohamed Al Akbari, of Al Wahda, again stung the palms of Botirali just prior to the hour after fine skill to beat his marker.
The game was becoming more open and Urinboev got on the end of Kobilov’s lofted ball but Busanda stood up brilliantly to block his shot for a corner.
It was only a brief reprieve though as, from the resulting corner, Busanda came out to gather but got caught in traffic and the grateful Kobilov headed into an open goal.
The goal visibly lifted the visitors who could sniff the blood of the men in red, and it should have been 2-0 minutes later when the UAE were caught in possession at the back. Midfielder Odiljon Xamrobekov ghosted onto a througball that cut the UAE open and rounded Busanda, but he lost his balance and lifted his effort onto the top of the net as the Whites survived.
UAE substitutes Shaheen Surour and Ali Eid combined, the latter heading the former’s whipped free-kick narrowly over and a clever Al Attas ball then found young Boss forward Eid but he rushed his effort when he had space and Botirali gathered.
With time running out, Sidikov, the best player on the pitch, settled matters when he raced into the box to meet Azizjon Ganiev’s astute cut-back to thump an unstoppable finish into the roof of Busanda’s net.