Henk ten Cate upbeat as he prepares Al Jazira to take on Al Wahda in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, while Al Ain manager Zlatko Dalic tries to stretch his threadbare squad when they host Emirates club, writes Amith Passela.
Al Wahda v Al Jazira, Friday, Al Nahyan Stadium, 8.15pm
The stakes will be raised considerably when Al Wahda and Al Jazira meet for the second time in four games tomorrow.
Their first meeting ended in a 2-2 draw after Wahda surrendered a two-goal lead in the Arabian Gulf Cup earlier this month. They suffered a 4-2 home defeat to Al Dhafra in the same competition before being held to a scoreless result by promoted Hatta in the Arabian Gulf League last week.
Jazira on the other hand will arrive at Al Nahyan Stadium with tails up after an impressive 2-0 win over Al Wasl in their league opener at the weekend.
Henk ten Cate, the Jazira manager, was upbeat on his team’s chances adding that the local rivalry should make for a great game.
“A derby is always a special game. It’s more about the emotions,” said the Dutchman.
Javier Aguirre, the Wahda manager, said he was looking for his side to put their recent disappointments behind them.
“The cup games are different to the league games,” he said.
“We returned with a point from Hatta but that’s not a bad result for us. If we can win the three points against Jazira we will be straight back as a title challenger.”
Al Nasr v Al Ahli, Thursday, Al Maktoum Stadium, 8.15pm
Ten Cate also offered his thoughts on another Arabian Gulf League rival, Al Nasr, who he said he rates as the “best prepared” team in the division.
“I say this because they have a decent squad and above all their preparation has been uninterrupted as they have only one player on national duty,” Ten Cate said, referring to UAE centre-back Salem Saleh.
“As a team, I think they are the best prepared as both Ahli and Al Ain have a majority of their players in the national team and they have been unable to train as a team.”
Nasr began their league campaign brightly, racing into to a 3-0 lead before eventually winning 4-2 over Al Dhafra. Al Ahli too were impressive, with a 4-0 win over Emirates, with three goals scored in the last quarter to complete the rout.
Al Ain v Emirates, Friday, Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, 8.15pm
Zlatko Dalic, the Al Ain manager, is in a dilemma as he has to try to balance his side across three different competitions so early in the season.
His focus is spread across the Asian Champions League after a 1-0 result away to Uzbek club Lokomotiv earned them a passage to the semi-finals two weeks ago; the Arabian Gulf Cup, where Al Ain scraped a 3-2 win over Kalba before going down 5-1 to arch rivals Al Ahli; and a hard-fought 1-0 win over Baniyas in their league opener.
Al Ain go into their second league game against Emirates tonight with the semi-final first leg in the continental championship against El Jaish of Qatar looming five days later.
Shuffling his players across three competitions has already taken its toll. Khalid Essa, the goalkeeper who was also on duty for the national team, has been ruled out by injury while there are doubts over defenders Mohammed Fayez and Mohammed Ahmed has been confirmed out for six months.
Dalic put a brave face ahead of the match against Emirates this week, saying: “Indeed we have a tough task ahead but we must rise to that challenge if we want to win titles.
“No doubt, a good performance and victory over Emirates would boost the confidence of the players for the ACL semi-finals. So let’s hope we can earn the result we want in the first game.”
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport