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UAE Champions League clubs need to buck an alarming trend

No side from the Emirates has qualified out of the group stages since 2007; Al Jazira, Al Wahda and Emirates need to start amassing points tonight and tomorrow.

With the threat of early irrelevance hanging over them, three UAE teams play in the second round of group matches of the Asian Champions League (ACL) tonight and tomorrow.

No UAE side has survived the ACL group stages since 2007, a stretch of futility that encompasses 10 campaigns and could stretch to 14 if the four sides in the 2011 tournament do not begin amassing points soon.

Four first-round matches, three of them at home, produced only two draws two weeks ago.

"I'm not discouraged, but two points from 12 is not a good result," said Carlo Nohra, chief executive of the Pro League.

First up are Al Jazira, the Pro League leaders, who are away tonight to Sepahan of Iran. Tomorrow, Al Wahda play at Persepolis of Iran in Tehran and Emirates are home to Al Rayyan of Qatar.

Al Ain's match at Nagoya Grampus, scheduled for today, has been postponed after the earthquake in Japan.

In Isfahan, Jazira face a Sepahan team who won away at Al Hilal of Saudi Arabi as Jazira were being held to a scoreless draw at home by the Qatari side Al Gharafa.

Phil Anderton, chief executive of Jazira, said the coach Abel Braga will not field a weakened side tonight ahead of a President's Cup semi-final on Monday and a key Pro League match at Wahda on March 25. "He knows the President's Cup is a priority and the league is an even bigger priority, but it's not as if we're playing three games in five days," Anderton said.

Sepahan got goals from the Senegalese forward Ibrahima Toure and the Brazilian midfielder Januario in the victory at Al Hilal.

Jazira will look to their foreign contingent of Brazilian forwards Bare and Ricardo Oliveira, and the Argentine midfielder Matias Delgado, to negate Sepahan's imports and will hope that their Emirati passport holders, led by the midfielders Ibrahim Diaky, Subait Khater and the goalkeeper Ali Kasheif, will make the difference.

Sepahan are unbeaten in their past 21 matches in all competitions, and are 15-5-0 at home since February of 2010, an unbeaten streak that began with a 0-0 draw with Al Ain in the 2010 ACL.

Wahda venture into the 100,000-capacity Azadi Stadium for their match with Persepolis, who lost 3-1 at Al Ittihad as the UAE side were drawing 1-1 at home with Bunyodkor.

Jazira had a match in Azadi Stadium last year and emerged with a scoreless draw with Esteghal. "In that sort of venue you need to make sure your players are buoyed up and confident because it's intimidating," Anderson said. "You have to make sure your players don't fear the environment because if they go in there feeling nervous and inferior it will accentuate those feelings."

Wahda, the defending Pro League champions, have struggled to find their bearings after a slow start, and lost in the Etisalat Cup semi-finals last week, but should be aided by the return of the Olympic team players Hamdan al Kamali and Mahmoud Khamis.

Emirates, holders of the President's Cup despite playing in the UAE's second tier, are struggling as they play host to Al Rayyan. Not only did they fall 2-1 at Zob Ahan in the ACL first round, they lost a First Division home match 2-1 to Al Oruba last week and have not won in six matches since February 11.

Emirates look to the Moroccan forward Nabil Daoudi and the Algerian midfielder Karim Kerker for goals.

Al Rayyan were held 1-1 at home by Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia in the first round of matches.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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