ABU DHABI // Franky Vercauteren, the Al Jazira coach, has challenged his title-chasing side to produce better results in the second half after a first half of the season spent acclimatising to his methods.
Jazira are second in the league, four points behind Al Ain, through to the semi-finals of the President's Cup and also top of their Etisalat Cup group despite the late-summer arrival of Vercauteren, who replaced Alejandro Sabella when he cancelled his move to Abu Dhabi to become coach of the Argentina national team.
"I didn't have much time to prepare as I came late," the Belgian said yesterday. "I had to watch DVDs of the other teams at the beginning and now I have a better knowledge of them. There is a difference between then and now. We have improved, but I feel we can be better."
Vercauteren arrived from Genk, whom he had taken into the Champions League. Asked if he had to tailor his European methods of training and approach to matches at Jazira, Vercauteren said: "It wasn't necessary for me to make many changes when I first took charge. At the beginning it was the time to find a balance between how they worked and how they adapted to my methods.
"Of course, I have my own ways of doing things but it has to come gradually, which we have been doing and have been pretty successful."
Jazira lost twice in December to fall from the top spot in the league but his team looked like the Jazira of old when they twice came from a goal down to beat Al Wahda 4-2 in their last league game, and they have a chance to crank up the pressure on leaders Al Ain when they travel to Dubai tonight.
"Jazira are the favourites and Jazira have to win," Vercauteren said. "On paper it looks easy but it is not as easy as it looks against any team in the league. The ranking doesn't mean that the better team can always win and that's why football is nice.
"We are meeting a team from the lower half in the league. In this instance, the motivation and concentration of the players can be less. It is normally not professional." He added that his team's second match in a week could find his players "a bit tired, both physically and mentally".
The Belgian has a fully-fit squad at his disposal and his only dilemma appears to be whether to start Bare, the Brazilian, whom has been on the bench of late. In a 6-2 victory over Ajman, Ali Mabkhout took Bare's place, and the Emirati scored two goals.
"I have 29 players and want to have all of them at the same level," Vercauteren said. "For me, the names are not important but playing as a team is the most important. It is the best team in the week that will play."