ABU DHABI // In their first three Champions League campaigns, Al Jazira won once, a meagre return from 18 matches and a source of embarrassment for what was, over that span, the UAE's strongest club.
Jazira are making up for missed opportunities. They held off Al Rayyan of Qatar 3-2 last night to go to clear at the top of Group A with six points from two games in this year's competition, including their first road victory, 4-2 at Nasaf Qarshi in Uzbekistan two weeks ago.
Ricardo Oliveira scored early, the goalkeeper Ali Kasheif reprised his strong form of 2010/11 by making several fine saves in the first half, and Ibrahim Diaky and Abdullah Mousa each scored in the second half for the Pro League's defending champions.
Caio Junior, the club's Brazilian coach, noted that Jazira had never before won consecutive matches in the Champions League.
"It gives us confidence, but not yet are we sure for the next round," he said. "In my opinion we need at least 10 points."
Caio Junior formerly coached Al Gharafa in Qatar, and he knew well Rayyan's strengths, particularly in the attack.
"I was envisioning a very difficult match with very high quality," he said. "Rayyan is a team I know is very strong offensively, and I thought we would have to score three goals. We couldn't score the fourth goal, but we didn't concede the third.
"The most important is that we are getting back our confidence — two wins in a row since I came."
The day before, Caio Junior had pledged: "I can guarantee to Al Jazira fans that Jazira will get back the same high-quality football as they did in the time of Abel Braga."
Jazira lost only four league matches in three seasons under Braga, a compatriot of Caio Junior, and won a President's Cup and Etisalat Cup as well as their first league title. Jazira had lost four league matches in 14 games this season under the Belgian coach Franky Vercauteren, who was dismissed after the victory over Nasaf.
Caio Junior said he would return the side to the Brazilian style of play they knew under Braga. It certainly worked out that way last night, as Jazira played an attractive, fast-paced style that also included more than a little defensive indifference in the final half-hour when the visitors scored twice.
Oliveira, the Brazilian, who cost Jazira a UAE-record Dh62 million transfer fee from the Spanish club Real Betis in 2009, gave Jazira a lead they never gave up. At age 31, he is having his finest season in the UAE; the goal last night was his 25th this season in 28 matches in all competitions.
Caio Junior conceded that Jazira have problems to be solved, citing poor fitness levels in some players, as well as continued leakage in the centre of the defence, where the veterans Lucas Neill and Juma Abdullah are stationed.
Jazira continue Champions League play on April 3 with a match at Esteghlal of Iran, followed by a return match at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on April 18.