President’s Cup final: Al Wahda and Al Nasr are evenly matched

Al Wahda manager Javier Aguirre says there will be no excuses if his team miss out on winning the President’s Cup on Friday night. Likewise, Dan Petrescu says Al Nasr's season will be judged on taking home the silverware.

Sebastian Tagliabue (11) and his Al Wahda teammates will be sure to be keeping their eye on the ball against Al Nasr in the President's Cup final, but the Argentine will be without his Childean strike partner Jorge Valdivia. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // There will be no excuses for Al Wahda if they miss out on winning the President’s Cup on Friday night.

That is the view of manager Javier Aguirre, despite the fact that he will have to do without Chilean international Jorge Valdivia and Emirati Sultan Al Ghafri for the showdown at Zayed Sports City Stadium against Al Nasr.

“We will not look for excuses for the absence of one or two players,” the Mexican said.

“We still have a strong squad and have the confidence on them that they would go out there and win this game for us.”

Valdivia has been ruled out after suffering a thigh muscle spasm in their 4-2 defeat to Persepolis of Iran in the Asian Champions League earlier this month.

Al Ghafri is sidelined due to suspension as he is serving a one-match ban for two yellow cards.

It will be the first time that Aguirre has taken charge of a game at Zayed Sports City Stadium since he took over at Wahda last summer, and he said he expected the team to adapt to the new surroundings quickly as they bid to win the President’s Cup for the first time since 2000.

“It is my first time here, but it is a final and there are no excuses not to give a good game,” he said.

The former manager of Mexico and Japan said there is little to pick between the two sides and that he is expecting a close game against Nasr.

The sides finished the Arabian Gulf League campaign in fifth and sixth places, respectively, with both having enjoyed one win over each other in their two league meetings.

“It’s going to be a very interesting game with two equally-matches sides,” Aguirre said.

“The fans from both camps can enjoy a good game and it will be the best team on the night.

“There are no favourites here as both teams are very similar. We won 5-1 against them in the first round of the league and lost 3-1 in the return leg away.

“So, we are both in the same level.”

Sebastian Tagliabue, the Argentine striker who joined his manager at the pre-match news conference, said he would trade all his personal achievements to win a major title for Wahda.

“If we win, it will be the biggest title I have won,” said the winner of both the Golden Boot and the Foreign Player of the Year in 2015/2016.

“I have been the top scorer for the club three times, and if we can win this I will put it at the top.

“And for winning this cup I’m ready to part with all my personal achievements.

“If my goals can help my team win, it will be better.

“I dream to score hat-trick but if we win by an own goal of Al Nasr I will still be happy.”

If one player in the Wahda line-up would miss Valdivia’s presence on the pitch, it would be Tagliabue, who has linked up well with his teammate throughout the campaign.

“He is in a different level than us,” Tagliabue said.

“He is in the level of what Lionel Messi is for Barcelona.

“However, we still have three or four players, such as Balazs Dzsudzsak [the Hungary international] and Ismail Matar, who can play that role.

“Maybe not in the same way as Valdivia, but we can manage.”

From Dan Petrescu’s point of view, Al Nasr season’s will be defined on whether they lift the President’s Cup.

The Romanian, who replaced Serbian Ivan Jovanovic in November as Nasr’s manager, said people will not remember anything else that happened during the season if they prevail against Al Wahda in the final and win silverware, as well as qualify for the 2018 Asian Champions League. “Our season will be judged after the cup final,” Petrescu said.

“That’s why it’s important to win this trophy.

“It’s not only winning the trophy but qualifying for the Asian Champions League. I’m happy my team is the final but I’ll be happier if we take the cup.

“To participate is not enough.

“We are playing against a good team, a good coach and good players.”

Petrescu said past results and the absence of a player or two, referring to Valdivia’s absence in the Al Wahda line-up due to a thigh injury, will not make Wahda any weaker when they take to the field.

“Wahda are a side with a lot of quality and they don’t depend on one or two players,” Petrescu said.

“They are a side who defeated Al Jazira 6-0 [in the President’s Cup quarter-final] and Al Rayyan 5-0 [the Qatari club] in the Asian Champions League.

“Only a good team can achieve such results.”

Petrescu is unsure how the game will pan out, tactically, but said he would be not surprised if only one goal decided proceedings.

“You never know what to expect in a cup final,” he said.

“A lot will depend and how the two teams approach the game.

“There are several things to consider.

“It could be an open or close game, the form of the players and how they would adapt to the situations, or it could be everything. For me, the first goal will be very important.”

The Nasr manager, who stayed tight-lipped on the team’s strategy and the line-up, insisted that small details could make a huge difference.

“I have not decided on the line-up,” he said. “We have small problems but I’m not going to tell them [to the media].

“In a cup final, everything is possible. It can be decided in 90 minutes and in a penalty shoot-out.

“The chances of both teams are 50-50, it doesn’t matter what happened in the league.”

Nasr are seeking a fifth President’s Cup title after they ended a 26-year wait to lay hands on the title in 2015.

They had previously won the Cup three times in five years, in 1985 and 1986, and in 1989.

“It will be great to finish off the season with the prestigious President’s Cup title,” Nasr midfielder Tareq Ahmed said.

“Our campaign in the league was hampered by injuries to key players but all that can be put right in this one game.

“The players are aware what it requires winning this game.

“Obviously not an easy task but we are ready.”

Their past nine games are no indication as they have four wins, three losses and two draws over all competitions.


Al Wahda

• Round 1 def. Dibba 3-1 (Al Ghafri, Al Kamali, Matar)

• Quarter-final def. Al Jazira 6-0 (Tagliabue 3 [1 pen], Dzsudzsak 2 [1 pen], Burgosh)

• Semi-final Sharjah 1-0 (Dzsudzsak pen)

Al Nasr

• Round 1 def. Dubai 1-0 (Wanderley)

• Quarter-final def. Al Ain 1-0 (Yaqoob)

• Semi-final def. Hatta 1-0 (Barrada)


Recent winners

• 2016 Al Jazira

• 2015 Al Nasr

• 2014 Al Ain

• 2013 Al Ahli

• 2012 Al Jazira

• 2011 Al Jazira

• 2010 Emirates

• 2009 Al Ain

• 2008 Al Ahli

• 2007 Al Wasl

• 2006 Al Ain

• 2005 Al Ain

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