Al Jazira will not take their foot off the gas in AGL title chase.
Ten Cate has full squad to choose for trip to Hatta where everyone ‘wants to play’ as Ahli are resigned to relinquishing crown
ABU DHABI // Al Jazira have every chance of being crowned Arabian Gulf League champions when they travel to Hatta tomorrow.
A win over ninth-placed Hatta is well within the league leaders’ capabilities. But even if that does not happen, the Abu Dhabi side will celebrate if reigning champions Al Ahli are held to a draw at home to Sharjah.
Both games kick off at 6pm. Jazira top the table with 59 points, while Al Ahli are eight behind with three rounds to go.
Henk ten Cate, however, wants his team to seal victory rather than have to rely on a favourable result at Rashid Stadium.
“We want to get this out [the title] as quickly as possible,” the Jazira manager said yesterday. “It won’t be an easy game because Hatta will want to steal the spotlight from us.”
One positive ahead of the game is the Dutchman has a fit squad to choose from.
“We have a full squad available and it becomes so difficult to select the playing XI as everyone wants to play this game,” he said. “And in games like this I don’t have to say much to motivate them.
Having said that, Ten Cate is wary of any complacency.
“Hatta is a pretty good side, particularly at home,” he said. “They have some decent players and can punish us if we take them easy.”
Cosmin Olaroiu, the Ahli manager, has already given up hopes of the league title but he still wants to finish second and book their a place in next season’s Asian Champions League.
“There is no point talking about the league.
“We all know where it’s headed to, but still have to fight for the second place and that’s what we want to do,” the Romanian said. While tomorrow’s games – which also include fourthplaced Al Ain hosting fifthplaced Al Wahda – feature the league’s high-profile sides, tonight’s clashes will be just as crucial for the teams involved. Basement dwellers Baniyas and Emirates both face mustwin games if they are to boost their chances of survival.
Baniyas travel to Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium for a meeting with President’s Cup finalists Al Nasr, while Emirates host Kalba, another club fighting relegation.
Emirates and Baniyas are both five points from safety, and the latter side’s manager, Abdulwahab Abdulqadir, said he is more hopeful than confident of his team’s chances of securing three points though.
“Our situation remains the same since I took charge but we’ll fight until the end to remain in the top flight,” said the Iraqi, who took charge of the struggling Abu Dhabi club in January.
It is Abdulqadir’s third spell at the club after leading them their only President’s Cup triumph in 1992 and earning them promotion to the top flight in 1988.
He was appointed as the club’s third manager of the season after Baniyas parted ways with Uruguayan Pablo Repetto and his successor Jose Gomes of Portugal. “Everyone knows how important this game is for us,” Abdulqadir said. “We are facing a strong team. They have quality in both the midfield and attack. But we don’t have any choice other than win this game to keep our hopes alive.
“We played a friendly match against Al Dhafra as part of our preparation for this game and we can take a lot of positives out of it. If we can prevent Nasr from scoring early, then it will give our team the confidence.”
Baniyas prop up the table on 13 points along with Emirates, who have the same tally but are ahead on goal difference.
They are both five points below Kalba and Dibba, who play Al Wasl at home.
“It is a critical round for all four teams,” Abdulqadir said. “The outcome of these games will make the picture more clear for all the four teams.
“I hope we can return with the three points.
“That would keep hopes alive until the next game. I have told my players not to get pressurised by the fact that this game will decide our fate.
“They all know how big a task they have in front of them. Aside from losing to Al Wahda I think we have done well against Wasl and drawing the last two games against Sharjah and Kalba.
“Of course, we need to raise our level against Nasr and I’m pretty sure they will.”
Ali Mabkhout, centre, has scored 28 goals for Al Jazira in the league and tops the scoring charts for this season. There are no injury concerns as they travel to Hatta.