DUBAI // Back in November, following Al Shabab's stuttering start to the season, not many would have imagined them reaching the second round of the Asian Champions League or making it to the last four of the President's Cup and Etisalat Cup.
Shabab had lost five of their first eight Pro League matches, and the club management were facing calls to replace their manager, Marcos Paqueta.
Unlike their counterparts at other Pro League clubs the team's management stuck to their guns and stood behind the Brazilian, a decision that has paid dividends.
Shabab won their next eight league matches, reached the semi-finals of the Etisalat Cup, and on Wednesday, became the only UAE club to reach the knockout stages of the 2013 Champions League with a win over Pakhtakor in Uzbekistan.
On a high following that win, Paqueta's men are looking forward to beating Al Wahda on Monday night's President's Cup last four at Al Ain and keep themselves in the hunt for a trophy.
"This is the last chance for us to do something good this season, and bring joy to our fans," said Luiz Henrique, Shabab's Brazilian playmaker, who has played an influential part in their turnaround.
"So we will fight with everything we have to make sure we reach the final. We were on the verge of qualifying for the finals of the Etisalat Cup, but things did not go as planned against Ajman. This President's Cup semi-final is then another opportunity for us that we should not miss. We are determined and focused."
Shabab have been based at Al Ain for the game since Saturday, shifting to the Garden City less than 48 hours after their return from Uzbekistan.
It could have been worse, though, if not for the private jet provided by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed for the team to travel to Tashkent.
Their return flight would have arrived on Friday.
Over the past month, Shabab have played nine matches and any delay in returning from Uzbekistan would have negatively affected their preparations for tonight's game. But given the spirit his team has shown in recent times, the club chairman, Sami Al Qamzi, has warned Wahda to beware.
"If Shabab play with the same spirit they played against Pakhtakor in Tashkent, they will surely reach the final of the President's Cup and even win it," he said.
"If they play like that, I am confident Shabab can also beat Esteghlal" in the last 16 of the Champions League.
No UAE club has reached the third round of the Champions League since it was rejigged in 2009 and Al Qamzi is hoping his club can achieve that dream.
However, Paqueta has urged his players to forget about Asia for the moment and focus on Wahda.
"They have a new coach and that could have a positive impact on the morale of the Wahda players," Paqueta said. "So we should be careful and make sure we take the pitch with absolute focus."
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