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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 March 2021

Al Nasr striker Sebastian Tagliabue hopes 'next four or five months could be amazing'

Argentina-born striker has helped his side reach President's Cup final and hopes to help Dubai club reach a second when they meet Ittihad Kalba in Arabian Gulf Cup second leg

Al Nasr’s Sebastian Tagliabue, right, was back among the goals in the President's Cup. Courtesy PLC
Al Nasr’s Sebastian Tagliabue, right, was back among the goals in the President's Cup. Courtesy PLC

Sebastian Tagliabue is targeting an “amazing” end to the season with new manager Ramon Diaz after helping fire Al Nasr into the President’s Cup final.

The Dubai club saw off Arabian Gulf League leaders Sharjah in the final four on Monday night, with their Argentine-born striker grabbing a goal and a remarkable assist at the Rashid Stadium.

Nasr, four-time President’s Cup winners, now face Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in the showpiece, although a date for the match is yet to be announced. Shabab Al Ahli, who have lifted the trophy a record nine times and were its most recent winners, in 2019, defeated Baniyas 1-0 earlier on Monday.

Nasr are still fighting for silverware on three fronts, with next week’s second leg of the Arabian Gulf Cup semi-finals to come – they trail Ittihad Kalba 2-1 – while they sit fifth in the league, seven points off the summit with nine rounds remaining.

With performances improving rapidly since Argentine Diaz replaced Krunoslav Jurcic in the dugout last month, Tagliabue is confident the campaign can prove to be a fruitful one.

“Of course,” he said. “Because we're now in one final already and after 10 days we have the chance to be in another. In the league we have to continue to go game-by-game and see where we are in four or five matches.

“In my opinion, the best way to finish the season is to play the two cup finals and qualify for the [Asian] Champions League, directly or by play-off. And for sure, the best, best scenario is to be champion of two cups and go to the Champions League.

“Let’s see if we can win two cups and be as close as possible to first or second in the league. This is what we expect with the new coach. We’re going much better; I hope we continue like this.”

Tagliabue has tasted cup success before, winning the President’s Cup and league cup during seven years with Al Wahda. He joined Nasr on a free transfer last summer, and is determined to end his debut season at the club with another title - even though he acknowledges that, in Shabab Al Ahli, Nasr face one of the best teams in the country.

“It would be amazing,” Tagliabue said. “Every time when you can win something, even first, second, last or after 10 seasons, it’s incredible. I have five trophies with Al Wahda and the first and last ones were just as important.

“Any time you have the chance to win something you have to try. Because we play to win, we don’t play just to enjoy. These next four or five months could be amazing.”

Tagliabue was full of praise for Diaz, who enjoyed success in the region when manager of Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal between 2016 and 2017. In 16 months with the Riyadh side, Diaz guided them to a league and King’s Cup double, while also finishing runner-up in the 2017 Asian Champions League.

Al Nasr story. Courtesy UAE FA
Al Nasr, in blue, overcame Sharjah in their President's Cup semi-final. Courtesy UAE FA

“He’s a winning man, as are all his staff - always they want more and more,” Tagliabue said. “And most importantly, they work for that. The best way is to teach you and to convince the players how to play. He’s straightforward and friendly, but at the same time pushes you 120 per cent.

“It’s very good. Because he’s teaching us how we have to play and now we understand that. And also he’s very smart in playing to the players’ strengths.

“You have to understand: it’s not normal in three weeks or less that one coach changes a lot the style of a team. Since the first day, even the cup game against Ittihad Kalba we lost 2-1, the players show something. We’re going in the correct way, improving every day, every game. So I think we can do good things from now until the end of the season.”

Tagliabue, who now qualifies to represent the UAE, expects that to increase his output, too. A two-time Golden Boot winner, and the third-highest scorer in UAE top-flight history, he has netted only five times in the league this season.

“Of course, for me the first six, seven months were not good,” he said. “But in the same way, I didn’t have a lot of chances. The way we played with the other coach was not beneficial for anyone. Every player struggled at the start: Ryan [Mendes] could not be Ryan Mendes, Toze could not play to his level, even Tariq [Ahmed] … Dia [Saba], coming from China playing very well, was not his level.

“Also you couldn’t see the best of myself. But now you can see all the players increase their level, because we are playing as a team, we know what we have to do with the ball, where to attack, where to defend.

“So I think and I hope now I will start to come back, score goals and to play much, much better. I’m excited.”

Updated: February 24, 2021 09:32 AM

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