‘It’s a new challenge we face’: Ivan Jovanovic wants positive response from Al Nasr players

Nasr coach calls for side to prove their talent following a series of disappointing results. They host Iran's Sepahan in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday following last week's 2-0 defeat there, reports John McAuley.

Al Nasr manager Ivan Jovanovic has backed his side to bounce back from a series of setbacks, beginning with Tuesday’s return test against Sepahan at Al Maktoum Stadium. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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DUBAI // Ivan Jovanovic says his Al Nasr side must show enough spirit to turnaround their recent poor run of form, beginning in Tuesday's Asian Champions League match against Sepahan.

The Dubai club have endured a difficult spell of late, winning one of their past seven fixtures. That sequence includes two defeats in five days, with Sepahan's 2-0 victory in the Group A opener in Iran last Tuesday followed by Saturday's exit from the President's Cup. Nasr, the defending champions, lost 5-4 to Sharjah.

However, Jovanovic has backed his side to bounce back from the series of setbacks, beginning with Tuesday’s return test against Sepahan at Al Maktoum Stadium.

“Of course, we are at a time that our team doesn’t have good results. This happens in football,” he said.

“Every team that believes they are a strong team need to believe and need to fight to come back with good results. It’s not only good results that make a good team, but also when you’ve bad results it’s how a team can respond.

“Tomorrow we have a new game at home and, if we want to take something from this game, we have to play much better. It’s a new challenge we face and I believe we will respond much better tomorrow than we did in Sepahan.”

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Jovanovic has overseen a remarkable improvement at Nasr since joining the club in June 2013, guiding his team to three trophies. After 26 years without a major domestic title, Nasr followed the 2014 GCC Clubs Cup crown by winning last season’s Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup. It convinced the club last summer to offer Jovanovic a two-year extension to his contract.

Asked if he is beginning to feel the strain, the Serbian replied: “If you’re talking about the results on the pitch, then of course, every coach who doesn’t have good results is under pressure. But if you mean my position as Al Nasr coach, you have to be sure I don’t have this problem. I don’t feel like this.

“I work with good players, good guys, and I believe in them too much. This bad period we face now as a team only makes you stronger for the upcoming games. This is my team, I work with them. So if somebody is responsible for the team, this is me.”

Igor Stimac, the Sepahan coach, said Nasr’s current form will not impact how his side approach the match in Dubai. Last week, Sepahan were convincing winners at their Foolad Shahr Stadium.

“We are not building our positive ambitions based on the results of Al Nasr,” Stimac said. “Our optimism comes from our work. We know Nasr is a very serious opponent, a very well organised club with good players. Receiving five goals two days ago will not take us in a wrong direction.

“Tomorrow’s game will be totally different: they need to take their chance to get some points and we need to find a way to stop them doing it.”

Opposition player to watch Mohammad Reza Khalatbari

The versatile forward, in his second spell at the club, is integral to Sepahan’s chances of coming away with a result. Khalatbari knows the competition well, having scored seven goals in 25 appearances and possesses a runners-up medal, gleaned from Zobahan’s 2010 campaign. Has an eye for goal, but also for a killer pass. Can play a number of attacking positions.​

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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