Henk ten Cate says AFC Champions League now a priority for Al Jazira

Denzil Pinto 22:17 11/02/2018
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Henk ten Cate has promised Al Jazira will take this season’s AFC Champions League more seriously after conceding team’s Arabian Gulf League (AGL) title hopes are all but over.

Twelve months ago, Ten Cate prioritised the AGL over the premier Asian club competition with the Dutchman naming a weakened team for their group matches.

While they suffered a group stage exit, the Pride of Abu Dhabi went from strength to strength in the league to claim their second-ever AGL title in April.

This season, they have struggled with injuries and consistency and with a gap of 16 points separating his side and AGL leaders Al Ain, Ten Cate says the AFC Champions League is a priority in 2018.

“This an important game for us,” he said ahead of Jazira’s opening match against Qatar’s Al Gharafa on Monday night.

“The Arabian Gulf League is gone for us and this is one of the challenges we want to focus on. We want to go into the next stage and a good start will help us. We have to focus on this game and win it. We have to do that with our young boys. So far none of my boys have disappointed me, in fact they have surprised us.

“The Champions League is our main target. This is very important for the club. Of course, I would love to do that with a full squad but due to circumstances we cannot do this. We are ready for tomorrow.”

Jazira will be making their 10th appearance in this competition and will be aiming to get back to winning ways in Asia after failing to win a single match (nine losses and three draws) in 2016 and 2017. The last time they tasted success in the continent was in 2014 against Qatar’s Al Rayyan.

And Ten Cate is eager to end the drought, saying it’s crucial to get three points because they are playing at home.

“It is the first game in the series and it is always important,” said the 63-year-old. “A win will do a lot but same goes for Al Gharafa, they will go for a win as well.  I think for us it is more of a necessity than for them. I hope it will be a nice game and hopefully be will be on the right side of the score.

“But I feel really confident as the team is in a good shape. We played a very good last game in the AGL and the young kids proved me right that they are ready. So we’re pretty confident.”

While Jazira faced Spanish giants and eventual winners Real Madrid in the Club World Cup semi-finals and also competed in both the President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup, Ten Cate has spoken of issues affecting the team.

But he insists there is no need to motivate his players prior to Monday’s clash, saying each player is eager to claim all three points.

“It is a day to day work of every coach to motivate the players,” said the former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant. “There are games which are difficult to motivate but this is an easy game (to get motivated). I don’t need to motivate them because this comes within themselves. Tomorrow will be the start of the new period in Al Jazira in the Asian Championship with good result.”

While Ten Cate has analysed video footage of his opponents, the match will see one familiar face line up for Al Gharafa.

“They (Al Gharafa) are a good team and have good players,” he said. “One of them was my player (Wesley Sneijder) when he was with Ajax before moving to Real Madrid. I spoke to him last night, not about the game but because of our friendship.”

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