At intermission, Al Ain hope to recover lost plot under Sanchez Flores

Players rally around coach as they take on Al Wasl at the mid-point of a troubled season for the defending champions.
Coach Sanchez Flores, second from left, has the confidence of his players. Satish Kumar / The National
Coach Sanchez Flores, second from left, has the confidence of his players. Satish Kumar / The National

With a disappointing first half to the 2013/14 Arabian Gulf League drawing to a close tonight, Al Ain remain confident they still can turn around their season.

The reigning UAE champions find themselves in a somewhat unfamiliar position heading into the campaign’s midpoint, languishing sixth in the standings and 11 points behind leaders Al Ahli.

A summer of upheaval prompted the discomfort. First, Al Ain lost Cosmin Olaroiu, the coach who guided them to successive league titles, before quickly dismissing his replacement, Jorge Fossati, a day before the season began.

A delay in appointing new manager Quique Sanchez Flores – the Spaniard was finally hired in October – contributed to the ragged start, with Al Ain already losing five times in league play thus far; more defeats than they suffered in either of the past two championship-winning terms.

They entertain Al Wasl at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium tonight knowing only victory will maintain their slim hopes of keeping the league trophy beyond this summer. For Mohammed Ahmed, the Al Ain full-back, the players need to recognise that they retain the talent to achieve the most unlikely of ambitions.

“The mistakes made this season won’t affect the players’ morale, as we all know the names in the team, in all the positions, are the ones that were being praised the previous two seasons for honouring not only Al Ain, but the UAE national team,” he said. “Unquestionably, Al Ain is a side that displays great teamwork.”

Since taking the reins at Al Ain, Sanchez Flores has spoken about the squad playing catch-up following a truncated pre-season. However, just when it seems the Spaniard’s message is beginning to filter through to his charges, they encounter more problems.

The most recent setback came last week, when Al Ain surrendered a one-goal advantage to be beaten 2-1 by Al Jazira, meaning they have failed to register a win in their past two fixtures. Ahmed, though, believes a second-half surge is possible.

“We have recently shown development under Quique’s management, whose touches can be seen clearly in the matches,” he said. “We need only a bit of luck to get back that stability again, compared to the performances in the most recent matches.

“I promise we are able to hit the aspirations of the administration and the fans in the second term through their non-stop support and through the players’ determination.”

Wasl should provide a stiff challenge. The Dubai side are also trying to find their feet under a new coach, Hector Cuper, the veteran Argentine, who took over in November. Wasl suggested in last month’s defeat of Ahli that they have the resources to trouble Al Ain.

“I know Quique and his achievements from his time in Spain, and that he likes to play aggressively,” Cuper said. “I cannot deny the power of Al Ain and you have to respect all teams, but we must show football worthy of our name. We must have all our focus on the pitch.”

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Published: January 2, 2014 04:00 AM


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