x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Al Ain’s Alex Brosque says slow start will not hinder AGL title chase

The Australian has faith in manager Quique Sanchez Flores's ability to turn things around and guide the Garden City club to a third consecutive title, while UAE warm-up for Asian Cup qualifier against Hong Kong with 2-0 win over Laos.

Alex Brosque played the full 90 minutes in Al Ain's 3-1 League Cup victory at Al Shaab on Friday night. Pawan Singh / The National
Alex Brosque played the full 90 minutes in Al Ain's 3-1 League Cup victory at Al Shaab on Friday night. Pawan Singh / The National

SHARJAH // Alex Brosque is confident Al Ain’s unsatisfactory start to the season will not derail their quest for a third successive top-flight title.

The UAE champions have endured a torrid past few months, when changes in manager disrupted their pre-season to such an extent they began the 2013/14 campaign without a permanent coach in place.

Jorge Fossati, the Uruguayan who replaced Cosmin Olaroiu, was released a day before the opening round of fixtures, Al Ain citing a difference in philosophy as the reason to part company.

The Garden City club then lost their first Arabian Gulf League assignment against Al Shabab, a result that contributed to a sequence of three defeats in five matches in all competitions.

However, Al Ain installed Quique Sanchez Flores last week, with the former Al Ahli manager guiding his new side on Friday night to a 3-1 League Cup victory at Al Shaab.

Brosque played the full 90 minutes as he continues his return to full fitness following summer surgery on his groin. The Australian conceded the uncertainty surrounding the club has been difficult to handle, but paid tribute to Sanchez Flores’s instant impact.

“For me, the good thing was to see how the boys responded this week; it’s been great,” Brosque said. “Training has been good, they’ve reacted well to Quique and [against Shaab] we got a result that puts us in a good frame of mind and allows us to build off the confidence that we’ll get from it.”

Regardless of the problems at coaching level, much had been expected from Al Ain this year. While retaining their most prominent players during the summer, the club invested heavily in new additions, signing proven pedigree in Michel Bastos, Ibrahim Diaky and Khalid Essa.

Brosque, therefore, envisaged an improvement on the performances that last season sealed the league title with four rounds to spare.

“In all honestly, this year we’re better placed than we were last year,” he said. “With the players we recruited in the off-season, I was excited to get back, thinking we could really build on last season.

“But this week has been about getting the confidence back that we’d lost. Last year, no one wanted to play against us, but this year we’ve started slowly and allowed every team to come against us and think we’re beatable now. So we have to change that again; get that confidence back. That’s the main thing.”

In the league alone, Al Ain have registered two defeats from three matches, meaning they sit 9th in the table. They are already six points behind leaders Al Ahli, the club considered their most genuine title rivals, yet Brosque insists, given the highly competitive nature of the division this season, there is plenty of time to recover.

“You look at Al Ahli’s first two games and they scraped through in injury-time in both,” he said. “We knew from the start this year was going to be a lot more even. We spoke about that in pre-season.

“Teams have recruited well. So what Quique’s trying to get into to us is no matter how good a team you are, if you don’t fight, if you don’t battle with the other teams, then you’ll even it up a lot more.

“We’re not panicking. We’re three games in and have obviously still got to play Ahli twice. So it’s very early days and if we can build off [Shaab] and get another win in the next cup game and take a lot more confidence into our next league game, we can start to make up that gap.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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Mahdi Ali’s UAE team beat Laos 2-0 in China in a friendly Saturday as part of the preparations for next week’s 2015 Asian Cup qualifying match against Hong Kong.

Salem Saleh, the Al Wahda midfielder and Ali Mabkhout, the Al Jazira striker, scored in the 65th and 79th minute respectively.

The UAE, who top their qualifying group after two games, face Hong Kong on October 15.