DUBAI // Cosmin Olaroiu has told his Al Ahli players to put aside their Asian Champions League success and focus on regaining the Arabian Gulf League title.
The Dubai club progressed to the semi-finals of the continental competition for the first time last Wednesday, defeating Naft Tehran 2-1 at the Rashid Stadium to win the tie 3-1 on aggregate. Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal now stand between Ahli and a spot in the showpiece, with the first leg of the double-header taking place in Riyadh on September 29.
However, before that Ahli must negotiate their Arabian Gulf League match against Al Dhafra at home on Monday night. Ahli, the 2013/14 UAE champions, have seemingly put behind them last season’s meek title defence — they finished seventh — with a fast start to this campaign.
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They opened their campaign by defeating Fujairah 8-1 in the league and have since registered three more wins and a draw in four matches across all competitions.
However, despite the trip to Saudi Arabia looming, Olaroiu has warned his side that they should be fully focused on the visit of Dhafra, in what is only Ahli’s second domestic league fixture of the season.
“We have to forget the qualification for the Champions League, everything that happened after the game and the happiness it brought and now look at this game, which is very important for us,” Olaroiu said.
“I talked to the players yesterday and told them that to get the possibility to live these moments you have to win the league, you have to participate again in the Champions League, and you can’t forget this.
“Dhafra are a difficult team and now it’s important for us to understand the importance of the game, to find the right motivation and to play at the maximum level we can.”
Olaroiu confirmed he will not rest any of his regular first-team players for Monday's match, even with their next Champions League commitment a week away. Moussa Sow, the Senegalese forward signed earlier this month from Turkey's Fenerbahce, is in line for his league debut after playing the entire 1-1 draw at Al Shaab in the Arabian Gulf Cup on September 7.
With Ahli scoring 14 goals in five matches this season, and with Rodrigo Lima, Everton Ribeiro, Ahmed Khalil and Ismail Al Hammadi in fine form, Olaroiu must find room for Sow in an already well-stacked attacking line-up. The Romanian seemed unconcerned by the situation.
“I prefer it to be difficult than to not have the options,” he said. “Sow’s available, he will join the team and like all the players he has to earn his place in the team. He will have his chance, of course, but he has to win that place in this team.”
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