DUBAI // With arguably their most daunting assignment successfully completed, Al Ahli maintain they have little time to rest on their laurels as they go in search of the Arabian Gulf League title.
The 2013/14 campaign’s greatest accumulator of victories moved four points clear at the top of the standings last week, following win No 8 in the 2-0 triumph against the runner-up Al Shabab.
Ahli will have taken particular pleasure from the result; their early dominance had begun to waver as they failed to register victory in three previous rounds. In fact, days before the Shabab match, Cosmin Olaroiu’s side had relinquished their unbeaten league record, defeated 2-1 by Al Wasl.
They loom as strong favourites to continue their winning ways on Thursday when they travel north to face Ajman, who are languishing at the bottom of the table.
“We respect Ajman. They don’t deserve to be in this position, but higher,” said Catalin Raducan, the Ahli assistant, who is fulfilling Olaroiu’s media commitments as the Romanian contests a six-month touchline ban. (Olaroiu was in court in Abu Dhabi yesterday to answer charges of defaming Al Ain, his former employers.)
Raducan added: “We hope our team will forget the game against Shabab because now they must be very focused on Ajman. Our players must go onto the pitch extremely motivated, to realise the importance of this game.”
Ahli should fully comprehend what is at stake: they play one day before their title rivals, meaning a defeat of Ajman will extend their lead to a rousing seven points.
The 2012/13 season offers a reminder that they must not underestimate their opponents. Ahli, who eventually finished runner-up by 11 points to Al Ain, were unexpectedly conquered in matches against the division’s “small” teams, suffering shock reverses to the likes of Dibba Al Fujairah and Al Dhafra.
Raducan is wary of a repeat.
“When you want to lift the title it’s very important to win these games, to take the three points, so this season it’s our main target to keep players focused to understand how important these games are for us,” he said.
“We must treat each game like a final, know that easy games don’t exist; it’s not three points only for wins against Al Shabab or Al Ain, it’s the same against Ajman or Al Dhafra. Our players need to understand this.”
Raducan said Ahli have learnt from past mistakes. The Wasl loss now seems almost a necessary setback, and the players responded with a spirited return to form against Shabab.
With an Asian Champions League drive to commence in February, Ahli’s immediate future appears bright. Yet again, Raducan tempers expectation.
“Until now four points [in the league] is nothing: we can win an advantage, or we lose it,” he said. “Before we start in Asia we have four very important games. If we win then we can talk about the difference between us and second place, and think about Asia, but only after this month when we are focused on league matches and the President’s Cup.
“The first game, against Ajman, is the most important. In this moment we do not lose concentration.”
Al Wahda hope to start win streak after ‘unlucky’ stretch
Al Wahda will be hoping to build on their 1-0 win over Al Dhafra when they travel to struggling Dubai on Thursday night.
The Abu Dhabi club, right, had gone without a win for seven rounds, splitting points in five of those games, before Hussain Fadel’s 81st-minute goal against Dhafra ended their win drought.
“It is not easy when you have not won a match in seven rounds,” said Jose Peseiro, the Wahda coach. “I thought we were unlucky in many of those matches.”
Dubai, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back following their 2-1 defeat at Al Shaab last week, when they conceded twice in the final eight minutes.
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