Al Shabab, like the other three teams from the UAE, drew a blank in their opening match of the AFC Champions League. The defending league champions went down 2-0 against Sepahan on their tournament debut, summing up a glum midweek for the Pro League's contingent.
Toninho Cerezo, however, brushed aside the disappointment and issued a rallying call to his side. "Nothing is over yet," said the Brazilian coach. "We have five more games to play and we will try to do our best. We were unlucky that we conceded so early and late, but this result has not clarified anything." Shabab host the tournament favourites Bunyodkor in their next game on Wednesday. The Uzbekistan giants boast the Brazilian World Cup winner and former World Player of the Year Rivaldo and Asia's best player Server Djeparov in their ranks.
Yet, playing at home against Bunyodkor could prove to be an easier task than the match in a colosseum-like atmosphere Shabab endured in the Iranian city of Esfahan. "Their supporters affected us," admitted Cerezo. "But we still should have played better. We didn't see a very good game and neither side played well. Hopefully, this experience will be good for us in the future games." Playing in Iran, in front of thousands of vociferous fans, can be intimidating for the best of sides. Yet, Shabab showed no nerves and fought with all their might, despite conceding an early goal.
"We saw Sharjah and Ahli in action on the first day, and we knew it was going to be difficult for us, especially since we were playing in Iran," said Shabab captain Marcos Assuncao. "Still, I think we tried our best. Luck was not on our side." The Sepahan coach Farhad Kazemi was not too happy with the performance of his side and said: "Even though we won, we still made mistakes which we need to iron out for future matches. We scored early on in the first half, but the players didn't play well for the rest of the half and I am unhappy with their performance."
The Qatar international Alaa Hubail scored in the last minute for Umm Salal as they shocked Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Abel Braga thought the 1-0 result was harsh on his Jazira team, especially as Fernando Baiano missed a penalty, saying: "Umm Salal were well organised in the defence and we expected this with their French influence [their manager Gerard Gili]. "We regret this result for our fans. And to be honest, we didn't deserve to lose because we were not a weak team."
Gili was naturally delighted to return with three points. He said: "We would have been happy to return with an away point but our strategy to defend and to counter attack whenever we got the break worked perfectly well." firstname.lastname@example.org