President’s Cup final pressure on Al Ain, says Al Jazira’s Henk ten Cate
ABU DHABI // Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate says all the pressure is on Al Ain in Sunday’s President’s Cup final.
The Abu Dhabi club go into the showpiece at Zayed Sports City, the season finale of the UAE season, as slight underdogs, given the two sides’ respective campaigns.
Al Ain finished second in the Arabian Gulf League and on Wednesday qualified for the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League, while Jazira endured a difficult domestic league season and eventually finished seventh.
However, Jazira have been in fine form recently and appear to be enjoying working alongside Ten Cate. The Dutchman, who replaced Abel Braga in December as the club slipped towards the relegation zone, has excelled in the cup, guiding his team through a dramatic penalty shootout victory against Sharjah and then a deserved 3-2 semi-final win against Al Ahli, the UAE champions.
Subsequently, he is convinced Jazira can continue to prosper on Sunday.
“We’ve one advantage: in January we were dead and buried,” Ten Cate said. “For us, playing in this final is like a present. It’s really is – we can make something of the season. For Al Ain, it’s a must-do, a do-or-die situation. They must win this cup. So there’s a lot of pressure on them.
“Hopefully we’re going to take advantage of this. We have a good strategy. The main issue is that the guys believe in themselves. After beating Sharjah, when you are twice two goals down and you bounce back to win on penalties, it gives an enormous boost and enormous spirit in the team, which we showed against Al Ahli.”
Ten Cate said Jazira’s unlikely route into the final means his side are the more relaxed of the two teams, although he was quick to highlight Al Ain’s quality. Yet he remains certain his players can match their cup rivals and conclude the season by sealing the trophy for a third time in Jazira’s history.
“Nobody, even me, expected to be in the final, but fortunately the team started picking up the things we were practising and now you can see we’re playing very, very good games and very convincingly,” he said. “So we have a lot of confidence – really a lot of confidence.
“And we should be careful that the confidence doesn’t turn into arrogance because we are not. We are fully aware of who we’re playing, which is a fantastic team with great players. But in football everything is possible. And I hope we can show that tomorrow.
“Nobody can put the pressure on us, it’s on them. They have the better team, better players. Regardless of whatever happens, I’m very proud of my team. If you look where we came from and where we are now, I can only be satisfied and happy. I want my players to enjoy the final – they deserve to be there. And at the end of the day we’ll see what it brings us. I’m not concerned about anything, not at all.”
Whatever the result, Jazira are expected to look for another manager this summer. Asked about his situation at the club, in which his contract expires after the final, Ten Cate said: “My future is not so important, the future is Sunday. That’s what’s important. That’s the future of the club. That’s always more important than the future of any individual, whether that’s a player or the coach.
“And I’d like to focus on the game rather than focus on my own situation.”
Ismail Ahmed v Ali Mabkhout The latter has enjoyed a career year and his semi-final hat-trick suggested he has not begun to wind down. Ahmed, a talented defender, must be on his game.
Omar Abdulrahman v Park Jong-woo Shackling Al Ain’s playmaker and the UAE’s standout is never easy, so Park will have his work cut out. But stop Abdulrahman and you stop Al Ain.
Danilo Asprilla v Abdulla Mousa Asprilla is erratic but dangerous, a constant outlet for Al Ain on the right flank. He is a goal threat, too. Mousa needs to be switched on.
HEAD TO HEAD The two teams met twice in this season’s Arabian Gulf League, with Al Ain winning both. It was 2-0 in the Garden City in October, when Fellipe Bastos and Lee Myung-joo scored, while in March’s return fixture Douglas notched a hat-trick as Al Ain triumphed 3-1.
KEY STAT: 50 Jazira conceded 50 goals in the league this season, better than only the two relegated clubs. They will obviously need to improve in defence if they are to hold off Al Ain, the division’s second-most prolific side during the same period.
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Updated: May 28, 2016 04:00 AM