x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Al Ain facing tough choices ahead of heavy schedule

There are four sets of silverware in the Garden City club's reach, and coach Cosmin Olaroiu will have to prioritise.

Jires Kembo Ekoko (No 9) stepped in for Al Ain in Gyan's absence.
Jires Kembo Ekoko (No 9) stepped in for Al Ain in Gyan's absence.

Cosmin Olaroiu concedes Al Ain will be forced to prioritise in the coming months as they battle for honours on four fronts.

The Garden City club have already clinched a trophy this season, beating Al Jazira to win the Super Cup, and they have a seven-point lead at the top of the standings as they defend their Pro League title.

In the Etisalat Cup, Al Ain are second in their group behind Al Wahda, and they booked their spot in the last-eight of the President's Cup with a 4-0 win over Fujairah on Thursday night.

Towards the end of February, Al Ain will also start their campaign as one of the UAE's two direct entries in the AFC Champions League, and while Olaroiu expects his team to be fighting for honours in every competition, the Romanian concedes he might be forced to pick and choose.

"We approach every game with the same ambitions and we treat each match as important," the Al Ain coach said. "We want to be fighting for titles on all fronts, but we realise we will have to set priorities and make decisions accordingly.

"So we will see when we arrive there. We will deal with each game according to our own priorities. Maybe in the big games, we will play with our full team and if the match is a bit less important, we might field our second team. But we will make that decision only when we arrive in that period.

"We will see in which competition we have a better chance of winning and that tournament will be our priority."

The Pro League certainly seems to be one of the priorities for Al Ain, but Olaroiu has warned his players against heeding recent talks of his team being runaway winners of the title.

"Everybody is saying we have already sealed the fate of the league, but that is not true," Olaroiu said. "If we listen to such talk, we risk losing our focus and falling into a trap. Our team knows we need to continue at the same level. That is the key to our success - to continue with the same kind of determination and intensity, and fight in every game."

Al Ain showed the same kind of intensity against Fujairah, although the Division One side made the reigning Pro League champions work harder than their fans would have imagined.

"Fujairah played really well," Olaroiu said. "They fought hard and pressed a lot in the first 20 minutes. They played good football, but the experience and quality of our players eventually decided the game."

Paulo Santos, the Fujairah coach, was also pleased with the efforts of his players and singled out the Brazilian left-back Filipe Machado, who helped stop Asamoah Gyan from scoring, for special praise.

"I asked Machado to go with Gyan one-to-one," Santos said. "I told him, 'Today is your day and I am sure you will stop Gyan.' After 20 minutes, Gyan told Filipe: 'I have never faced such a close and good marking like today. Will you go with me like this for 90 minutes?' Filipe said, 'Yes, my job today is to stop you because you are the best player in the league'.

"So Filipe did a great job. Gyan tried but did not score and he congratulated Filipe after the game."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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