Success breeds stress for Al Ahli as they compete on four fronts

Arabian Gulf League leaders remain in the hunt for four trophies but face a packed fixture list, with potentially 13 matches in seven weeks.

Luis Jimenez, in red, of Al Ahli in action during an Arabian Gulf League match against Dubai at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai on January 8, 2014. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // Luis Jimenez, the Al Ahli playmaker, says the club will prioritise the Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup as they face a congested final few months of the season.

The Dubai side, perched on top of the domestic standings, continue to fight on four fronts, with the League Cup semi-final against Sharjah next up on Saturday, while they contest the President's Cup final alongside Al Ain on May 18. Ahli are also two matches into their Asian Champions League campaign.

Wednesday's 1-1 draw at home to Qatar's Al Sadd sparked a crammed schedule that comprises potentially 13 games in seven weeks, with Ahli's next three league fixtures particularly daunting: they travel to champions Al Ain when the programme resumes next week, then face championship rivals Sharjah and Al Jazira.

Trips to Iran's Sepahan and Al Sadd, in Doha, are stern assignments, too, and bookend tough tests at home against Sepahan and Al Hilal. The next two months will therefore determine whether Ahli conclude the season with silverware for the third straight year, although Jimenez acknowledges that it is unlikely all four trophies will find a home in the Rashid Stadium this year. Especially as, at present, Ahli have a relatively small squad.

“To compete for four competitions is nice, because we are a good team, but it’s also very difficult, very tiring,” he said. “We don’t have enough players and we’re not machines, so normally if you play a lot of games, every three days, your level goes down. So we have to be very intelligent.

“We’ll try, for sure, but we have to win lots of games. The league is the priority. We start in first place and have only seven games more, so we must think it’s not possible to give it away.

“Then we have the President’s Cup final, so these competitions are our best chances, the closest to us. At the moment, they are in our hands, so it’s up to us.”

Jimenez said he was disappointed with the performance against Sadd, both individually and as a team. Ahli rebounded from a goal down to capture a point, thanks to Grafite’s second-half header, meaning they have opened their Group D quest with successive draws.

They are third in the pool, knowing if they are to progress to the knockout stages, they will need to take something from next Wednesday’s encounter at second-placed Sepahan.

“The next game is the key for us,” Jimenez said. “If we win, we can stay in the competition, but if we lose in Iran, then qualification will be very difficult. At this level all around the world, the Champions League has the very best teams and I’m sure it will be a very difficult game, especially away from home.

“If we win, we can move top of the group, although it depends on the other result. We’re still in the competition so it’s in our hands. I hope we will improve.”

Ahli’s packed programme

March 15 – Sharjah (a) League Cup

March 19 – Sepahan (a) Asian Champions League

March 23 – Al Ain (a) Arabian Gulf League

March 27 – Sharjah (h) Arabian Gulf League

April 01 – Sepahan (h) Asian Champions League

April 06 – Al Jazira (a) Arabian Gulf League

April 10 – Al Wasl (h) Arabian Gulf League

April 15 – Al Hilal (h) Asian Champions League

April 24 – Al Sadd (a) Asian Champions League

April 27 – Al Shabab (a) Arabian Gulf League

May 01 – Ajman (h) Arabian Gulf League

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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