ABU DHABI // Josef Hickersberger had planned to give his players a day off today, but he changed his mind after Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia thrashed his Al Wahda side 3-0 in an Asian Champions League match last night.
Instead, the Austrian coach's players will report for training today, five days ahead of the final of the President's Cup, in which his team will meet Abu Dhabi rival Al Jazira.
"It is not punishment," Hickersberger said. "That is not my philosophy. I want to see my players and talk to them about what happened and start our preparation for the Cup final.
"I cannot close my eyes, and it makes no sense to give them one day off. They will stay in town and think too much about why we lost and how we lost.
"I want to get control as soon as possible and I want to talk to the players, and about what happened, from my points of view, and what we have to do better in the next match."
Wahda's players may need an inspirational speech to bring them around after Ittihad, the runaway leader of Group C, scored three unanswered goals before a crowd of 7,873 at Al Nahyan Stadium.
Hickersberger said he never considered playing his second team against Ittihad and said his first team should recover in plenty of time to put in a strong performance in the President's Cup. However, while he played his first XI, including the Brazilian striker Fernando Baiano for the final 45 minutes, Jazira rested many of their front-line players in a 3-1 ACL defeat at Al Hilal of Riyadh last night.
"It doesn't make sense to play an Asian Champions League final with the second team," the Austrian said. "That's what we did last season. last season; we had the big goal to win the domestic league. This season, we have the Cup final and the Asian competition.
"If the players have a normal lifestyle, they will recover within five days. If they can't recover in five days from a football match, there is something wrong. So I never thought about playing with the second team.
"The best preparation for a Cup final is a tough match. OK, we lost. We have to analyse the game. I still believe that we are able to win the Cup final."
Wahda dominated the match in the first 30 minutes, and came within inches of scoring in the fifth minute when Magrao's header off a corner by Hugo banged off the post.
The game turned radically in the 32nd minute when Paulo Jorge, Ittihad's Portuguese winger, broke free from the defense of Jalal Khalid and calmly put a cross on the foot of the Algerian striker Abdelmalik Ziaya, who stroked home a soft shot from six yards out. The Saudi side doubled their lead seconds before the interval when a poor clearance by Bashir Saeed was blasted into the net by the Ittihad midfielder Manaf Aboshgair.
"We were a little bit unlucky when Magrao hit the post with his header, and some shots were blocked," Hicksersberger said. "But then we made the first mistakes and Ittihad scored first, and after that the game changed and Ittihad controlled the match much better than before. They didn't look nervous like in the beginning, and the second goal just before halftime killed us.
"After that, despite the changes I made, we were not able to come back. We didn't look good in the build-up, we made too many mistakes, but the team didn't give up, and they tried to score at least one goal. The third goal was deflected, so luck was not with us, and for that reason we lost by a high margin. That's bad, very bad for us."
Ittihad won the ACL championship in both 2004 and 2005 and are in line for a home match in the round of 16 next month. Said Toni, their coach: "The first 20 minutes were what I thought they would, with Wahda playing very well. But after 20 minutes my team controlled the match and scored three goals and deserved to win."
Ittihad's final goal came in the 87th minute, when Jorge's corner appeared to glance off the head of Hugo and then banged off the hands of the Wahda goalkeeper Adel al Hosani and into the goal.
Wahda are now level with Bunyodkor and Persepolis on two points, behind Ittihad, who have nine goals from three matches, and could still finish second and advance out of group play, which no UAE team has managed since 2007.
Wahda are away to Ittihad on April 20, travel to Bunyodkor and are home to Persepolis. Wahda had drawn with the latter two, 1-1 and 0-0, respectively.
"We have three matches left, two are away," Hickersberger said. "But we've shown against Persepolis that we can make good results away. Maybe it's even easier than at home. We will see."