x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ahli coach warns players not to ease off after emotional victory

Travelling to Sharjah poses another test for title challengers

Al Ahli striker Grafite was singled out for praise by his coach, Cosmin Olaroiu, for his work rate during a 1-0 win over Al Ain. Satish Kumar / The National
Al Ahli striker Grafite was singled out for praise by his coach, Cosmin Olaroiu, for his work rate during a 1-0 win over Al Ain. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Cosmin Olaroiu has urged his Al Ahli players to capitalise on their recent victory against Al Ain when they travel to Sharjah on Friday.

The Dubai club maintained their 100 per cent record in the Arabian Gulf League with Sunday’s vital 1-0 win against the champions, a result that stretched Ahli’s lead at the top of the table to six points.

Not only did it continue the Rashid Stadium side’s climb toward a first top-flight title in five years, it also severely dented Al Ain’s aspirations. With the defeat, the Garden City club are 11 points off the summit with only seven rounds of the season gone.

Al Ain will be hoping Ahli slip up against third-placed Sharjah, in a match Olaroiu concedes provides one of his team’s trickiest tests thus far this campaign. He admitted to allowing his players enough time to rejoice in their conquest of Al Ain, but he was quick to remind them that it will be forgotten should they finish 2013/14 without the league trophy.

“We’ve tried to recover our players both physically and mentally because we have to give good sense to our victory in the last game,” Olaroiu said. “We have to realise the league continues.

“We’ve many games in front and need to work more to remain where we are and to build on what we have done until now. If we think what we’ve already done is enough, it would be very wrong.

“I hope the Al Ain game will give us more motivation and more confidence, but we must not relax.”

Olaroiu cited Sunday’s performance as Ahli’s finest this term, singling out Grafite for special praise. Statistics show that, despite being deployed as a lone front man, the club captain covered more ground than any of his teammates. It was fitting, then, that his desire was rewarded with the match-winning goal.

Olaroiu said the striker’s display was indicative of the whole team’s work ethic.

“For me, it was our best game from the beginning of the season to now,” he said. “When you’re a team, it means you have to sacrifice yourself for the team; you have to do things that maybe normally you don’t want to. And the players showed us they can.

“Everyone did exactly what they had to. We restricted a team like Al Ain, who create a lot of chances, to less than all the games I’ve seen them play. The win was very important, without any doubt.”

Olaroiu also played down reports this week that Ahli could face a three-point deduction because of money owed to Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv for the 2011 transfer of Jackson Coelho from the Turkish club Trabzonspor.

Fifa, football’s governing body, had written to the FA about the possibility of a points penalty, but it appears Ahli will only have to pay Kharkiv the outstanding €30,000 (Dh149,670).

“I don’t think they will take the three points from us,” Olaroiu said. “Our job is to prepare the team to work hard and play hard to win any game. And it should remain like this.”

Ahli will likely be without Hugo Viana and Abdelaziz Husain for the match at Sharjah after they both picked up injuries against Al Ain. Viana’s injury, though, is not as bad as first feared.

Al Jazira v Al Nasr

Walter Zenga, the Al Jazira coach, says it will be an emotional time for him on Thursday when he comes up against his former club Al Nasr.

He said: “I may get emotional in this game because I will be meeting a lot of the old fans from the club. However, when the whistle goes off all that will be a part of the past.”

Al Wasl v Al Wahda

Al Wahda will be boosted for Thursday’s trip to Al Wasl by the return of Ismail Matar. The Emirati forward missed last weekend’s 4-3 defeat to Al Jazira as he grieved following the death of his brother, Ibrahim.

The Kuwaiti Hussain Fadel, the captain, is also available after serving a one-match suspension.

Al Shabab v Dubai

Al Shabab will go into Thursday’s home game against the bottom team Dubai in an upbeat mood following last week’s thumping 6-2 win over Al Dhafra.

Marcos Paqueta’s side is on 15 points, and three more points will consolidate their second place in the table behind the leaders Al Ahli, who are on 21.