Al Wahda will be without hotshot Sebastian Tagliabue for Monday’s Champions League opener against Lokomotive Tashkent but head coach Laurentiu Reghecampf is confident his side can claim all three points.
Tagliabue, 32, did not travel to the Uzbekistani capital on Sunday morning with Reghecampf leaving him out of the match squad altogether.
The Romanian coach said the Argentine was among the players to miss out on the game due to “small issues” but while he is wary of the task against the Tashkent, feels he has enough quality up front to deal with his absence.
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“I think it will be a difficult game for us because it’s the first game of the tournament,” he said. “We have some small issues with some of our players so we have decided not to bring them here. But I’m confident that we can get a positive result.”
The Clarets go into their game against the Uzbek League champions, sitting second in the Arabian Gulf League and still in contention for President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup glory.
Last season, Wahda exited the competition in the group stage and Hungarian playmaker Balázs Dzsudzsák is fully aware his team will need to be at the top of their game to get their campaign off to a winning start.
“For sure it’s going to be a difficult game,” he said. “It will be difficult conditions to play in. It’s a small pitch but it will be a good experience. Hopefully we can get a good result tomorrow.”
Al Wasl boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena has declared the winner of Friday’s critical clash at Al Wahda will gain the “great morale boost” required to push on for Arabian Gulf League glory.
The meeting at Zayed Sports City pits the second-placed Cheetahs against the third-placed hosts. With only two points separating the first three – Al Ain lead – in the table, victory in Abu Dhabi could be a defining moment in the campaign.
“The next match between Al Wasl and Al Wahda teams is important, although it will not decide the championship. But the winner of the next game will receive a great morale boost,” said Arruabarrena.
Meanwhile, Emirates Club coach Noorudin Al Obeidi has told his struggling players they have no choice but to fight the fear versus star-studded Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
The Falcons come into this clash only one point outside the drop zone, as they battle to extend a five-season stay in the top flight.
“We do not fear facing Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and we have no choice but to win at this critical stage of the season,” said Al Obeidi about opponents who possess a plethora of elite footballers, but haven’t won in the top flight since October 14.
Friday’s final fixture pits resurgent Sharjah against second-bottom Hatta.
Elsewhere, unwanted Al Ain striker Douglas found an escape route on Wednesday when Turkey’s Alanyaspor snapped him up.
The UAE Football Association have confirmed clubs from their nation will not pull out of the 2018 AFC Champions League, despite voicing “strong reservations” about the AFC’s repeat decision to enforce home-and-away meetings with teams from pariah-state Qatar.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia lead a bloc that severed all relations with the Doha government in June because of its alleged support for terrorism. This has forced strain on relations between the neighbours, at all levels.
Demands were made in the wake of November’s ACL draw that games against Qatar Stars League-outfits must be played at neutral venues. But after a thorough review, the continental governing body reconfirmed on Saturday in a letter that the existing format would remain.
The UAE FA reluctantly accepted this stance on Sunday, sending out an official statement which read: “The UAE Football Association will provide all facilities and support to our teams participating in the 2018 AFC Champions League, despite our strong reservations about the way, and the mechanism by which, the decision was reached.
“We are keen to cooperate with the AFC and announce the participation of our clubs in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
“We will coordinate with the clubs on all details.
“We will also hold a meeting with the AFC to ensure safe participation of the teams.”
Teams from the UAE and Qatar are guaranteed to meet each other in all four groups in the west if Al Ain and Al Gharafa win Tuesday’s play-offs.
Clashes between sides from Saudi Arabia and Iran will continue to be played at neutral venues, with the political situation deemed too hostile.