ABU DHABI // Al Jazira secured a top-three finish in the Arabian Gulf League with a 1-0 win over Sharjah, and with it at least a play-off spot for a potential berth in 2015 Asian Champions League (ACL) competition.
Sultan Bargash scored on the half-hour and the home side put up a defensive masterclass to preserve that lead to round off their league campaign last night at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
The result took them to the second spot in the table on 45 points with Al Wahda, who play Al Shaab tonight. Jazira hold a head-to-head advantage over Wahda with a win and draw in league play.
Walter Zenga, the Jazira coach, fielded his reserve squad and the ploy paid off with his big guns rested ahead of Tuesday’s second leg in the ACL round of 16 at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. They trail Al Ain 2-1 from the first leg.
“I had trust on the entire squad and providing them the opportunity to play the last game was my intention from the onset. I am glad they achieved the desired result,” Zenga said.
“There were a lot of young players and some of those who were returning after recovering from long injuries. This augurs well for the club for next season.
“My instructions to them before the match were very simple. I told them not to get scared, but just go out there and play your own game and that’s what they did tonight.”
Paulo Bonamigo, the Sharjah coach, was quick to applaud Jazira’s second-string team.
“We created several scoring chances, but couldn’t score. I can only congratulate Jazira for the win, as they managed to score first on a counter attack and defended the lead until the end,” the Brazilian said.
“We started the season well, but couldn’t finish it off well. We played for the top-four positions for almost three-quarters of the league and finished seventh, although we were not too far from the second team in the table. Obviously, our objectives would be to plan for the next season and this is something we have to deal with the management of the club.”
Bargash exchanged passes with Hassan Ameen on the left side of the box and connected with a cross from 12 yards to put Jazira in front for good.
Khalid Al Senani, the Jazira goalkeeper, made an excellent save by diving to his right to push out a low shot from Fellype Gabriel from inside the box as Sharjah went in search of the equaliser.
The visitors were wasteful in the second half, creating several clear-cut chances, but failed to convert any of them.