x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Al Ain just another game for Franky Vercauteren

The Al Jazira coach says the league's top scorer Asamoah Gyan "can't win the game alone" as the two sides get set for a top-of-the-table clash.

ABU DHABI // It is too early in the season to call this a showdown for the Pro League title, but the top-of-the-table clash between the champions Al Jazira and Al Ain has all the characteristics of a championship game.

Al Ain are the only unbeaten team left in the league, one point ahead of champions Jazira, going into the clash at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

Despite the attention surrounding the game, Franky Vercauteren, the Jazira coach, is downplaying it as a season-defining match.

"There are more than two teams at the moment that can win the league," he said.

"Al Ain is a strong team with some quality foreign players. They can be better in one game but there are a lot of teams that every team will have to [defeat], to win the league.

"Of course, this is an important game and the team that wins will hold a good position. But certainly the league will not be decided from this game."

Jazira avenged their first league defeat of the season, to Al Shabab, by sending the Dubai club out of the President's Cup with a 4-2 victory after extra time on Sunday.

They return to action four days after the energy-sapping game and will be without Ricardo Oliveira, their star Brazilian forward, who serves a one-match ban for accumulating three yellow cards, and Khalid Sabeel, the UAE international defender, who is suspended for two games following a red card.

"The matches have come in quick. The fact we played 120 minutes and one of the key players is absent will not be an excuse for any professional team. We have to find solutions," said Vercauteren.

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, has no intention of playing for a draw to consolidate his club's lead in the table.

"It is always a difficult game against Jazira but we will play to win," the Romanian said.

"Like Jazira, we also have some injured players. But that will not stop us from playing to win. If we can return with three points, we will certainly be in a good position."

When asked about the threat of the in-form striker Asamoah Gyan, the Ghana international who is on a one-year loan from the Premier League club Sunderland, Vercauteren said he would be a danger only if given space by Jazira.

"They have got some good players and Gyan is one of them," the Belgian said. "He is quick, sharp inside the box and is able to make action on the pitch. However, one good player can't win the game alone for them.

"For the moment he is an efficient player. He is using his qualities at a very high level and that could spell danger to any team. And, most importantly, he is finishing.

"We also have some quality in our side and we will use it to counter what the opposition has. It is up to my team to show that they can play at a high level without an important player.

"The opponent can play on how you let them play. And if you allow them to play the way they want with the quality they have, then there is going to be problems. We will look to have answers to their quality.

"And it is more important to look at our own quality and players instead of being dictated by the other team. If they still win against us then it is the quality that they have, and they deserve it."

Al Ain also have injury issues, with Mirel Radoi, the Romanian midfielder, and Ali Al Wehaibi, the winger, both doubts. Yasser Al Qahtani, the Saudi Arabia forward, has not played in the past three games and is unlikely to be included in the line-up.

Olaroiu added: "It is a very important game for us and we will decide the line-up on the day of the match. There have been some injuries and some of them may have to pass a fitness test."

Walid Salem, the captain and goalkeeper, is among the injured. He left the field with an ankle sprain during Al Ain's 4-2 win over Emirates in the President's Cup on Sunday.

"Walid knows what to do even without asking him," said Matar Al Sahbani, the first-team manager.

"He is an experienced player and he is the leader of the team. He is aware of the importance of this game and if he is fit, he certainly will be in the line-up. And I am sure he will be."



Tonight, 8pm, Abu Dhabi Sports