Al Nasr’s Ivan Jovanovic says President’s Cup is main challenge, not Asian Champions League
DUBAI // Ivan Jovanovic says the opportunity to end Al Nasr’s 26-year wait for the President’s Cup trophy will serve as motivation for his players in Wednesday night’s final.
The Dubai side, this season’s Arabian Gulf Cup champions, take on Al Ahli at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium knowing victory will secure their place in history.
Nasr lifted the President’s Cup three times during a five-year spell from 1985, but have since contested UAE football’s showpiece only twice, losing both. In their most recent appearance, in 1997, they were defeated on penalties by Al Shabab.
This year’s competition has come at the conclusion of the Arabian Gulf League campaign; the cup’s final four rounds were condensed into 19 days.
On Saturday, Nasr needed extra time and penalties to emerge victorious from the semi-final with Shabab. However, Jovanovic insists that, given what is at stake, his team will not suffer from fatigue or a lack of planning.
“You don’t need some special preparation when you play a final, only hearing the words ‘President’s Cup final’,” he said. “This is the only thing that works positively towards all of Al Nasr.
“All the players want to play this game. It’s absolutely normal that there is tiredness, but this applies to both teams. But who thinks about being tired when you have the President’s Cup final ahead of you?”
Should Nasr defeat Ahli – they played them twice this season, winning once and drawing the other – then they will not only break a lengthy drought, but also qualify for next season’s Asian Champions League.
Jovanovic says the additional incentive will not affect his side.
“My players understand everything,” he said. “We’ve played three games in the President’s Cup: twice going to extra time, and in one then to penalties. So you can see they made a great effort on the pitch. Of course, they understand how important the final is for us.
“But the President’s Cup itself is a great challenge. The Champions League is something very important, but for me it’s secondary, not the main challenge. The main challenge is the President’s Cup trophy.”
Unlike Nasr, Ahli have become President’s Cup specialists. They are participating in their third successive final, while victory will seal a record ninth crown. They, too, would gain a 2016 Champions League place.
Yet their programme has been even more laborious that Nasr’s, with Ahli also competing this month in the two-legged Champions League tie with Al Ain. Ahli have played six knockout ties in less than three weeks. At the weekend, they defeated Al Dhafra 2-0 to progress to the cup final.
“The players have already gone beyond limits,” said Cosmin Olaroiu, the Ahli coach. “We have not had enough time for training, but we still won and made it to the final.
“The team is ready for its final match. The players have proven they have a strong will, especially [in the cup quarter-final] and the Champions League against Al Ain. We have to give our best. It’s a very important game. Everybody in the club is focusing on this.”
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Published: June 2, 2015 04:00 AM