Al Wahda back to full strength for Asian Champions League play-off game against Jordan’s Al Wehdat

Jorge Valdivia, Sebastian Tagliabue and Balazs Dzsudzsak set for ACL play-off in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night, writes Amith Passela.

A file photo of Jorge Valdivia, second from right, and Sebastian Tagliabue, left, who will be reunited after long period as Al Wahda target a place in the Asian Champions League. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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ABU DHABI // Javier Aguirre will have the opportunity to field a full-strength Al Wahda side in more than a month as the Arabian Gulf League club target a spot in the group stage of the Asian Champions League.

Al Wahda go into their play-off game against Al Wehdat of Jordan on Tuesday night at Al Nahyan Stadium with Chile international Jorge Valdivia set to return from a lengthy knee injury lay-off.

Also back in the line-up are Argentine forward Sebastian Tagliabue, the Abu Dhabi club’s leading scorer for the past three seasons, and Hungary winger Balazs Dzsudzsak.

Tagliabue and Dzsudzsak are serving match bans – two and four respectively – after receiving red cards during a 5-1 defeat to city rivals Al Jazira in the Arabian Gulf League on January 19.

The duo are eligible to play in the continental championship.

Aguirre is optimistic his side can qualify for Asia’s top-flight club competition for the first time in six years.

“I have all my players ready and the opportunity to play with my best line-up,” the Mexican said. “It’s a final for us because it’s one game to qualify for the ACL. So obviously I want to have the best 11 on the pitch.”

Al Wahda are fifth in the domestic league and 19 points behind leaders Jazira with nine games left. Needless to say their progress has been severely hampered by injuries and suspensions, and their manager wants his men to make it count in Asia.

“The players understand the big challenge they have ahead of them, now that we don’t have any chance of winning the league,” Aguirre said.

“It has been many years since Wahda played in a big tournament. For me, for my staff and the players, it’s a big opportunity to be in the top level in Asia, even though it’s only the beginning.

“We have several young players and they need this challenge to play at a new level and the experience will be important for them. For me also it’s good opportunity to be a better coach and improve myself as a professional coach.”

Adnan Hamad, Al Wehdat’s manager, said his experience at local club Baniyas two years ago would come in handy tonight.

“Wahda have a good side and they are in good shape with Valdivia is back. He’s going to make a big difference as most of the UAE clubs rely quite heavily on their foreign players,” he said.

“However, I can say it’s not going to be an easy match as we want to qualify as well. We have come from a match in India [where they beat Bengaluru 2-1]. The morale of the players is very high and they are very motivated.

“The level of football in Jordan has risen in the past few years and we should get a permanent spot in the ACL group.”

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