ABU DHABI // Henk ten Cate says he will “squeeze everything” from his Al Jazira players as they look to get their Asian Champions League campaign back on track against Al Hilal on Tuesday.
The capital club have endured a disappointing start to Group C, losing both matches to Iran's Tractor Sazi, the first of which a dispiriting 4-0 defeat in Tabriz.
As a result, Jazira sit bottom of the pool with four fixtures remaining and next face one of the most experienced teams in the competition. Saudi Arabia’s Hilal, Champions League finalists as recently as two years ago, currently lie second in the group on four points and are expected to challenge for the title again this season.
Jazira, meanwhile, come into the game at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on the back of a packed programme in which they have played eight times in 25 days, spanning three competitions.
However, the Abu Dhabi club are in decent form having won four of their past five Arabian Gulf League matches to climb to seventh. After Tuesday, they have three weeks without any competitive action.
“We had to focus on three things,” Ten Cate said. “We had to qualify for the President’s Cup quarter-finals, we had the Champions League to play and the most important was to stay in the Arabian Gulf League. So our focus was not fully on the Champions League.
“Now it’s a different situation because this is the last game in the spell. So we’re going to squeeze every last bit of energy out of the players’ bodies to go for a good result. Knowing my players in the short while I’m here, it’s a fantastic group with amazing energy. Every time people think we’re down, they stand up again and come back with a good result. This is my hope for tomorrow as well.
“We’ve succeeded in two competitions, why not the third tomorrow?”
Ten Cate conceded that would be difficult, though, especially with questions marks surrounding the fitness of a number of players including goalkeeper Ali Khaseif, winger Angel Lafita and Thiago Neves, the former Hilal midfielder.
Ten Cate was also in no doubt about the standard of the opposition.
“Al Hilal have been one of the best teams in Asia for years and always are a good footballing side with a lot of quality. They’re the best team in our group, a fantastic team.
“So it’s going to be hard, but we’re not so easy to beat, especially at home. We’re in a really good spell in the league, we’re getting good results and because of this the players are getting lots of confidence. So we really look forward to this.
“We’re challenging ourselves against one of the best teams in the Champions League. This alone is already a big motivation for us to get a result and, second of all, there’s four games to play, so there’s still 12 points to earn. Nothing has been decided yet.”
Hilal, second in the Saudi Pro League, have injury concerns, too, with Carlos Eduardo, Mohammed Jahfali and Khalid Kaabi out, while Salem Al Dawsari is a doubt.
“We respect Al Jazira,” coach Giorgos Donis said. “They improve a lot in the last few games. They have good players, they try a lot, and are fighting. We expect a very tough game tomorrow.
“Our target is to finish first in the group. We’ve played only two games, the group is open, so we don’t think about Al Jazira not having points. If we think like this it will be more difficult for us.”
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