x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Al Ain coach Cosmin Olaroiu fears real test is yet to come

The Pro League leaders expect their title defence to get harder during the run-in, starting with their trip to Al Wasl tonight.

Cosmin Olaroiu has injury concerns over Omar Abdulrahman and Alex Brosque. Pawan Singh / The National
Cosmin Olaroiu has injury concerns over Omar Abdulrahman and Alex Brosque. Pawan Singh / The National

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, has warned his side their title defence will become only more difficult as the season approaches its conclusion.

The champions travel to Al Wasl knowing they can increase their six-point lead at the top of the table, with second-placed Baniyas not featuring until the match against Al Wahda.

Al Ain are favourites to retain the trophy they won with three games to spare last season, but Olaroiu is fearful a crowded schedule could yet derail their campaign.

In the past eight days, the club have faced arguably their two greatest tests thus far, although they defeated Al Hilal in the Asian Champions League and then Al Jazira, at that time their closest rivals domestically.

President's Cup commitments must also be considered - Al Ain are in the semi-finals - leaving Olaroiu cautious as the season enters its final few months.

"I heard some say Al Ain have already won the title but I disagree," he said. "It's too early because what's coming is harder than what has passed.

"[Tonight's] match won't be easy and is no less important than the Jazira match. All teams face Al Ain with great motivation and determination so I call on my players to have the same concentration and determination that enabled them to beat Jazira and Hilal."

Olaroiu's frustrations with Al Ain's congested programme are well documented, although will no doubt be accentuated by the uncertainly surrounding the fitness of Omar Abdulrahman and Alex Brosque.

The Romanian claims both were "aggressively attacked" by Jazira, while there are doubts regarding the participation this evening of Ali Al Wehaibi, Ismail Ahmed and Jires Kembo-Ekoko.

"It's possible to play but we can't guarantee a good performance because the players will be exhausted," Olaroiu said. "That will negatively affect their readiness and we shouldn't leave the result open to coincidence. Preparations are almost none because there's no time. On many occasions we have proved our abilities to do more, but when we are besieged by short intervals between matches, work will never be complete."

Tonight's test at Zabeel Stadium should be slightly less fraught as Wasl are missing Emiliano Alfaro, the striker with four goals in two games since Eid Baroot replaced Guy Lacombe as coach.

The Dubai club want to recover from last Saturday's defeat at Al Dhafra and, while they entertain who many believe are the 2012/13 champions-elect, their new manager is confident his side can provide another twist in the tale.

"As long as there are points left means the title is not in their hands," Baroot said. "There are still 27 points to play for, and nine matches remaining is a huge amount. So a six-point lead, or a nine-point lead, is nothing.

"Because of their quality there's a high percentage Al Ain will win the title, but it's not guaranteed. They lost recently against Dibba [Al Fujairah], which they never expected. So there could be another surprise, could be two, even three.

"You never know because this is football."



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