x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Ahli coach pleads with fans to keep faith after President's Cup exit

Coach promises turnaround after his side were dumped out in an embarrassing 4-0 defeat against arch cross-city rivals Al Wasl.

Grafite, centre, and his Al Ahli side were well-beaten up by a rampaging Al Wasl team.
Grafite, centre, and his Al Ahli side were well-beaten up by a rampaging Al Wasl team.

DUBAI // Quique Sanchez Flores called for patience last night after his Al Ahli side were dumped out of the President's Cup following an embarrassing 4-0 defeat against arch cross-city rivals Al Wasl.

Ahli, who have struggled to meet the expectations of their fans since the start of the season, were booed off the pitch by their few, frustrated and angry supporters in attendance after another nondescript performance, but Sanchez Flores pleaded with them to keep faith.

"This is not the time to despair," said the Spaniard, who took over the reins at Ahli after Ivan Hasek was shown the door. "This is the time for us to come together and find solutions.

"When I signed with the team, I knew about their situation but I still decided to come here and try to turn things around. And I am confident we can do it. Of course, I am not saying we will be a different team in the next game.

This is going to take time. This is going to take two months or even more, so we will have to be patient.

"I would have loved to play a strong team like Wasl two months later, but we played them tonight and I have to admit we are not ready to compete against a team of that level. Our morale is really low at the moment and my priority will be to work on that.

"We are also making mistakes right across the pitch and we need to work hard to make sure we don't do that. If we win a couple of matches, things will change."

Juan Manuel Olivera gave Wasl an eighth-minute lead and Mariano Donda made it 2-0 a minute before the break. Richard Porta added the third midway through the second half and Donda completed the tally on 69 minutes. It could have been 5-0, but captain Eissa Ali missed a penalty three minutes into added time.

As the angry Ahli fans screamed at their coach and players, Diego Maradona was given a standing ovation by his club's supporters. Having lost to Al Ain in their last game, the Argentine legend could barely conceal his joy.

"The win has come at the right time for us, and it is the result of good preparation," Maradona said. "The players really followed the plans and they turned in an excellent performance, so congratulations to them and to the trainers for preparing the team.

"We know Ahli are facing a difficult time and the coach is trying his best to turn things around, but we controlled the match really well."

Wasl are the only team from Dubai to progress to the quarter-final of the President's Cup, and Maradona believes they have as good a chance as any to win the title, provided they continue to work hard in preparation for games and perform on the pitch.

"This win should give us a lot of motivation going forward and if we can continue performing like this, we can go far in this tournament," Maradona said.

Maradona's boys were joined by Al Ain and Al Jazira who booked their quarter-final berths too.

arizvi@thenational.ae