x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Ain’s Quique Sanchez Flores takes aim at Sharjah

Spanish coach preparing players to deal with opponents' short passing game and possible penalty shoot-out ahead of UAE President's Cup game on Monday night.

Quique Sanchez Flores, right, has instructed his Al Ain players to not talk and ‘think only of their performance on the pitch’. Lee Hoagland / The National
Quique Sanchez Flores, right, has instructed his Al Ain players to not talk and ‘think only of their performance on the pitch’. Lee Hoagland / The National

Perhaps Sharjah have rediscovered some of the magic that helped them win eight President’s Cup titles.

They were relegated for the first time in the history of the club but have been a revelation since returning to the top flight this season under the Brazilian Paulo Bonamigo, the former coach of Al Shabab and Al Jazira.

Sharjah are in fifth position in the Arabian Gulf League, eight points behind the leaders Al Ahli after nine games, and already have booked their passage to the last four in the League Cup. With such a record behind them, though the last Cup triumph was achieved in 2003, Sharjah are certain to arrive full of confidence for their meeting with Al Ain in the President’s Cup round of 16 on Tuesday night at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

Quique Sanchez Flores, the Al Ain coach, acknowledged the tough task ahead and urged his players to leave no room for mistakes. “This game needs a lot of concentration because of the knockout format of the competition,” he said.

“We have been working on the areas we need to improve after the 1-1 draw against Baniyas in the last league match. We have done a lot of talking, too, and the players are aware of the actual situation.

“It is important for us to play for a win within the 90 minutes, because we are playing against a team that has showed excellent performance since returning from relegation. Sharjah play the short passing game well and they won’t be under pressure.”

Sanchez Flores said his side would be prepared if the match proceeds to extra time and a possible penalty shoot-out.

“The players have gone through the spot kick drills and the goalkeeper has done his part of the work in stopping them,” he said.

“But again, as I stated earlier, a shoot-out can go to the team that may enjoy some good fortune on the night.

“The morale of their players will be quite high. They will also not be under pressure, so we should double our efforts to match them.”

Al Ain are a point behind Sharjah in the league table, and their only meeting two months ago in the League Cup ended in a 2-2 draw.

Sanchez Flores does not want his players to go by those records and has urged them to focus on the game.

“I have told my players to think only of their performance on the pitch and to leave the others do the talking,” he said.

“Al Ain showed good performance in the last six matches, but sometimes the players get demotivated after a poor result. We had a difficult start, but I see a lot of improvement after every game.”

Baniyas v Al Dhafra

Baniyas and Al Dhafra played out a scoreless draw in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) earlier this year. Their second meeting this season in Tuesday night’s President’s Cup at Al Wahda’s Al Nahyan Stadium is expected to be another intriguing game, from which one will have to head for the exit. Jorge da Silva, above, the Baniyas coach, said of the knockout game: “We met very early in the season in September. It was only our second game and a lot has changed since then. We have improved as a team and the players know each other better.”

Al Ahli v Emirates

Paulo Comelli, the new coach of Emirates, will receive a baptism by fire when he faces holders Al Ahli. Ahli are the top team in the AGL and Emirates reside in the bottom four, but his players have the “mental strength and desire” to give any team a good run, he said. “I am here to change the club’s fortunes. I have to start with a tough assignment but am ready for any challenge,” he said. Ahli salvaged a 1-1 draw in their first meeting in the League Cup and the second ended in a 4-2 win for the Dubai club in the AGL.

apassela@thenational.ae