Asian Champions League: Al Jazira’s balancing act

Arabian Gulf League leaders prioritise domestic title over Asian Champions League after defeat to Qatar’s Lekhwiya.

Ali Mabkhout has been key to Al Jazira this season.  Pawan Singh / The National
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ABU DHABI // A second domestic Arabian Gulf League title seems to be the priority rather than challenging for the Asian Champions League (ACL) for Al Jazira.

Jazira meet Esteghlal Khouzestan tonight in their second Group B game at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium but are looking to balance their side for both the ACL and domestic league.

Jan Versleijen, the assistant manager speaking on behalf of Jazira manager Henk ten Cate at the pre-match conference, explained the move was necessary as they have to play three games in nine days.

"Everyone knows of our result in the first game [lost 3-0 to Qatar's Lekhwiya], which means we have a big task now and we'll try to get best possible result," the Dutchman said.

“We are playing a full league and the championship is very close to us.

“We had a meeting with the technical staff and decided to balance the two games.

“That implicates that some of our players will not play the full 90 minutes. Some may play half the game.

“This is something we discussed with our medical staff, as well, so we not only make a choice for tomorrow’s game but for the next two league games against Al Ahli and Al Ain.”

Jazira’s winless run in the ACL stretched to 10 after their defeat to Lekhwiya last week but they are enjoying a dream run in the league, holding a nine-point lead over the second-placed Ahli with seven games left.

Jazira face Ahli on March 4 and Al Ain four days later.

However, Versleijen insisted his team were not giving up on winning their home game against Esteghlal Khouzestan.

“If we are focusing only on the league we will start with a completely different team,” Versleijen said when asked if they were focused only on the AGL.

“We have three games in one week so we have to balance out the team by rotating the players. I can assure you the players for tomorrow’s game will do everything to win the three points.

“We are always well prepared to face any opponent. I don’t think there is a big difference between the four teams in our group, perhaps, it will be the home advantage. Here we are playing at home.”

Sirous Pourmousavi, Esteghlal Khouzestan manager, was upbeat after their first appearance in the continental championship – a 1-0 victory over Al Fateh of Saudi Arabia.

“We are in a good situation,” he said. “We had a good first game and we have all our players ready for this game. We spent a few days in Dubai in a camp and now ready looking forward to our first game away.

“Jazira are leading the domestic league and they should be respected. We know them as a team. They are a strong team.

“I can say our only problem is that we have less experience at this level. But I trust we have good players and I’m sure they will rise to the occasion.”

Meanwhile, Ahli will be hoping to take their winning momentum forward when they meet Lokomotiv away in Group A.

Ahli began their continental campaign by seeing off Iranian side Esteghlal 2-1, thanks to a double from Makhete Diop.