Al Shabab aim to keep pressure up on Pro League leaders

Paulo Bonamigo wants his team to keep the pressure on Al Ain and Al Jazira, but says securing Asian Champions League football for next season the main target.

Paulo Bonamigo knows his Shabab side have a mathematical chance at the Pro League title but also wants them focused on maintaining one of the top three spots in the table to ensure Asian Champions League qualification for next season.
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DUBAI // Al Shabab have not given up on their hopes of winning the Pro League title, with their coach promising a fight to the finish.

Shabab are third in the standings with 30 points, nine behind Al Ain, while the defending champions Al Jazira are second on 32.

There are still 18 points to play for in the six remaining rounds, and Paulo Bonamigo is hoping his team can keep the pressure on the leaders.

"We will keep trying and trying," Bonamigo said. "Mathematically, we still have a chance of winning the league, and as long as we have an opportunity we will do our best. We will try to finish as high as we can."

Bonamigo is also keen for Shabab to qualify for the Asian Champions League for a second successive season.

"Winning the league title is obviously the main objective, but you can also aim for a top-three finish because that confirms your participation in Asia for next season," Bonamigo said. "The fourth team has to play an extra game [a play-off] and the fifth team has no chance of playing in Asia. They play the Gulf Cup.

"So you are always trying to finish as high as you can to participate in competitions in the next season. Of course, winning the league is still the best result, but there are plenty of other things to play and to keep the players motivated."

Shabab are in mixed form. They suffered an embarrassing 6-1 Asian Champions League defeat to Persepolis last week but bounced back with a 1-0 win at Baniyas in the league on Sunday.

They face Diego Maradona's Al Wasl at 8.30pm Thursday.

"It was very important for us to stand up again after the defeat in Iran, and I am happy my players could show that," Bonamigo said.

"After a loss, you cannot cry about it and try to find excuses. We just sat with the players, discussed where we went wrong and they corrected their mistakes in the next match.

"We are playing another difficult match. The players have learnt a lot from the match against Persepolis and let's see how they perform against Wasl.

"This is going to be one more derby for us. It is going to be a difficult, high-intensity game and I hope both teams can play a good game and entertain the fans, show them good football."

Shabab and Wasl have met once this season, in the sixth week of the Pro League, and the visitors snatched a 2-2 draw at the Zabeel Stadium.

Walid Abbas, the Shabab left-back, is hoping his team can go one better this time and beat Maradona's men.

"To play against Maradona's team will be a special moment because he is a good coach and the greatest player in the world," Abbas said.

"So we will do our best to beat his team."


Al Nasr v Sharjah,  5.50pm

Helal Saeed's header in the fifth minute of added time gave Nasr a scintillating 3-3 draw with Al Ahli on Sunday, but earning only one point dropped the Dubai club to fourth place, 10 points behind leaders Al Ain.

Nasr realistically are now chasing an Asian Champions League place.

The influential midfielder Mark Bresciano is expected back for Nasr.

Sharjah are in a desperate fight to avoid relegation for the first time in their history. They have not won in their past 12 league matches and have leaked 15 goals in their past four.

Emirates v Al Jazira, 5.50pm

The holders will hope to apply some pressure to leaders Al Ain by winning away to the Ras Al Khaimah side.

Jazira have three victories in three games since Caio Junior took over as coach from Franky Vercauteren and returned the side to the Brazilian style of play they showed when Abel Braga was their coach.

Emirates snagged eight points from four matches up to round 14, but two losses for Lufti Benzarti’s side have left them in the thick of a relegation battle with Dubai and Sharjah.

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