Oliveira hat-trick as Al Jazira seal home Champions League last-16 tie
ABU DHABI // Al Jazira have played more matches than any team in the UAE this season, and they have been particularly busy over the past two months, with a game, on average, every four days.
If their league aspirations came to nothing during that gruelling stretch, their efforts have been well-rewarded in two other prestigious competitions.
They won the President's Cup last week and last night they secured first place in their Asian Champions League (ACL) group with a 4-1 rout of the Uzbek side Nasaf Qarshi.
Not since Al Wahda in 2007 had a UAE team won an ACL group, and Jazira's reward is a home game on May 22 or 23 in the one-off last-16 game against either Sepahan or the Saudi side Al Ahli.
"I'm very happy to get this first position in the group; it's a historical moment for Al Jazira," said Caio Junior, Jazira's Brazilian coach. "It adds value to our work, only two months of work here in Al Jazira, but I feel like I've been here a longer time."
If Jazira get continued production from Ricardo Oliveira, they stand a fine chance of reaching the final eight. The Brazilian scored three last night, two from the penalty spot, to give him 34 goals in 36 matches across four competitions.
Jazira bought the Brazilian striker, who turns 32 on Sunday, from Real Betis in 2009 for a league record Dh72.5 million fee, and for two seasons the notion persisted that he had not quite been worth it.
This season, however, he has been a goal machine in every competition, including the ACL, where he leads all scorers with six goals.
His penalties were studies in cool, with a hesitation on the approach each time, followed by well-placed bullets into the net.
His third goal came after a diagonal run that was rewarded by a nice through ball from Matias Delgado, and a first-touch shot from 15 yards.
Jazira are sure to rest their key players ahead of the elimination game. They likely will send their second team to Qatar in two weeks for a meaningless ACL game with Al Rayyan, and will gear things down in their upcoming two league matches, as well.
They may prefer to face the Saudi club in the last-16. They met Sepahan, the Iran champions, twice in the ACL last year and were beaten 9-2, on aggregate.
Ahli and the Isfahan club meet on May 15 to decide the top two places in Group C, and the loser will come to Abu Dhabi a week later.
The capital club will be hoping for far greater support than they received last night, when only 820 saw the match at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
Said Caio Junior: "I would like to call Abu Dhabi fans to come and to support the Al Jazira club, and support a UAE club in the competition.
"It will be very important for us. The players deserve this kind of support from the UAE people, and the club deserves it, too."
Meanwhile, Baniyas put themselves in the box seat to join Jazira in the last 16 after a 4-0 away demolition Al Arabi in Qatar.
Fawzi Basheer, the Oman international, put them ahead in the 17th minute and Francisco Yeste, the Spanish midfielder, doubled it five minutes before the break.
Nawaf Mubarak added a third seven minutes into the second half and Andre Senghor completed the rout with a 77th minute strike.
The result moved Baniyas to second behind the Saudi club Al Ittihad, who beat Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan 2-1 to guarantee top spot.
Baniyas, who are now a point ahead of Pakhtakor, will earn an away tie in the knockout stages if they avoid defeat at home to the Uzbeks in the final game of the group stage on May 16.
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Published: May 3, 2012 04:00 AM