ABU DHABI // After watching Al Jazira slump to successive defeats in the Asian Champions League (ACL), Leonardo is raring to return to the team as the Arabian Gulf League leaders resume domestic duties.
Jazira, nine points clear at the top of the AGL, will look to put aside their dismal start in Asia when they travel to second-placed Al Ahli on Saturday.
Having missed Jazira’s Champions League matches, with manager Henk ten Cate citing fatigue, Leonardo is likely to line up for the Abu Dhabi Club at the Rashid Stadium.
“I know why I stayed out of the ACL,” said Leonardo, who joined Jazira from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors less than two months after helping the Korean side win the Champions League.
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“After the season in Korea I went on a holiday. I didn’t train until I moved over to Jazira. Now I feel in good shape for the game against Ahli.
“We all know the importance of this game and the next (against Al Ain on Wednesday) for us. I’m looking forward to getting on the pitch and hope I can deliver for my team.”
Ten Cate’s focus on delivering Jazira’s first league title since 2011 was telling in his Champions League team selection, resting eight first team players in the 1-0 defeat to Esteghlal Khouzestan.
Ahli, too, return to domestic action following a foray into Asia where they won one of their two matches in a Group A all tied on three points.
However, most pressing for the Dubai club is their perilous AGL title defence. Defeat to Jazira on Saturday would all but end their hopes of retaining the championship.
“It is a big game for us and as well as for them,” Ten Cate said. “The pressure on them is way bigger than us, though. We are in a good situation and for them it’s do or die. Even a draw will not help them.
“For us, it’s a big game because it’s nice for the coaches, the players, the fans and the media. So hopefully we can return with a good result.”
Round 20 in the AGL gets underway on Friday night with three-matches. Al Dhafra make the long trip to Ras Al Khaimah for a meeting with Emirates, while Baniyas will host Al Wasl in the two early games. Al Nasr play Sharjah in the late match.
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