DUBAI // Al Nasr fans can put away those contemptuous banners and save their rancour for another day. Mark Bresciano will not be taking the pitch at the Al Maktoum Stadium tonight.
The Australian injured his right knee while playing for his national team in the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Oman last week and is not part of Al Gharafa's squad for tonight's Asian Champions League match.
That must surely be disappointing news for the Nasr fans, who have been waiting since August to let Bresciano know their feelings after he ditched them for the Qatari club in a far-from-amicable exit. Walter Zenga is disappointed, too, but for different reasons.
"Honestly, I am never happy when a player misses a game due to injury," said Zenga, the Nasr coach. "I prefer to play against a full team, with the best players, because the joy of football is to play against the best players and teams from around the world."
Gharafa, however, still have more than a few big names in their squad. Djibril Cisse, the former France and Liverpool forward, will be on the pitch, fresh from his double-strike in the 3-1 win over Sepahan in the last round. Then there is the Brazilian duo of Nene, who was at Paris St Germain earlier in the season, and Alex.
"They are a very good team, especially their three foreign players," Zenga said. "These players are important and can definitely make a difference for Gharafa. But I believe Bresciano's absence will have an impact on them."
There will be a major absence from the Nasr team as well. Leonardo Lima has been suspended for two games after his red card in the last match and Habib Sadek, the Gharafa coach, believes that level things out between the two teams.
"If Nasr are missing Lima, we are missing Bresciano," the Tunisian said. "Bresciano and Lima play in the same position, they have a similar style of play. The only thing about Lima is, maybe he has a strong personality and presence on the pitch, which his team might miss on the pitch.
"But at the end of the day, Nasr do not depend on one player, and let us not forget both Gharafa and Nasr have some exceptionally talented local players, who can make a difference as well."
Those strengths, however, do not reflect in the current domestic standings of the two teams. Gharafa are sixth in the Qatar Stars League, 17 points behind leaders Al Sadd, while Nasr are fifth in the Pro League. And things will only get tougher for the Dubai club as they are scheduled to play nine matches in a span of 33 days, between March 29 and April 30. Four of those games are in Asia and five in the Pro League."Playing nine matches in about 30 days is definitely not an easy task and nobody can understand this except someone who has played football," Zenga said.
Habib Fardan, Nasr's UAE international, agrees with his coach, but insists the players will be up for the task since they are playing for the pride of the country in Asia.
"There are a lot of matches coming up and this is sometimes not usual for a lot of players," he said.
"We will definitely do our best, first for the country before the club, and I hope we can bring happiness to our fans with a positive result."
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