ABU DHABI // A procession of languages were trotted out yesterday at a rapidly rising Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium. There is a rash of group matches in the Asian Champions League this week, but this particular contest, the game between Al Jazira and Umm Salal of Qatar, was given credence by some of the energised characters that infiltrated the pre-match press conference.
Arabic, Portuguese, French and English speakers all attended, a delectable field of footballing tongues all spouting the language of the global game, but Jazira's redoubtable Brazilian manager Abel Braga continues to protrude at such events. Braga speaks Portuguese and French, but gets his message across in whichever dialect he deploys. Buoyed by a couple of costly Brazilian jewels in Fernando Baiano, the UAE's top scorer with 18 goals, and Rafael Sobis, Braga has guided Jazira to the higher reaches of the Pro League.
They were tripped up 4-2 by Al Ahli on Friday, but are only a point behind Ivan Hasek's men at the top. The Champions League gives Braga and his compatriots a taste of something different. "There is not much time between this and our last game, but we will use this to get the mood of the last game out of our system," said Braga. "This is a good thing about football. You can lose in one match, and get back on track quickly in the next."
Braga has a stern type of presence, but sports a pair of jeans on the touchline with as much style as Lee Majors once managed in The Fall Guy. Braga seems unlikely to be a fall guy any time soon. Newcastle United recently studied Braga's suitability. His lack of English may have discounted him, but he will not go short for work after this exercise in the UAE. It would not be wrong to say that Braga seems like a coach meant for better things. He was enticed to these parts by a cheque a lot juicier than the Dh2.5million Champions League shirt sponsorship agreement Jazira yesterday announced with the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).
Jazira with a full tank of petrol will be expected to lay waste to a visiting side run by the French coach Gerard Gili. Braga has experienced the highest form of the game coaching Internacional in Brazil and Marseille in France. He is excited by the Asian form of the Champions League. "It is a different style to Europe and South America, but international matches are important because the team will convey a picture to the world.
"I am preparing our team to paint good picture," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org .