x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Al Jazira can reach Asian Champions League final says rival coach

Ruziqul Berdeiv, the Nasaf Qarshi coach, feels the Abu Dhabi club have the quality to go all the way in the Asian Champions League.

Lucas Neill returns to the Al Jazira defence after serving a one-match suspension.
Lucas Neill returns to the Al Jazira defence after serving a one-match suspension.

ABU DHABI // Ruziqul Berdeiv, the Nasaf Qarshi coach, says Al Jazira have the quality to go all the way in the Asian Champions League.

The Abu Dhabi club are on 10 points from four games and have already secured a place in the last 16 of the continental championship, with two games left in Group A that also includes Al Rayyan of Qatar and Esteghlal of Iran.

However, a first-place finish in the group is Jazira's target when they play the Uzbek club tonight at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, and a victory would secure that.

"For Jazira to qualify with two games left says a lot about the quality of the team," said Berdeiv, who has been at the Uzbek club first as a player and now as coach since it was established in 1997.

"We are in one of the strongest groups. Al Rayyan is made up of a lot of foreign players and Esteghlal has always been a strong team, and for Jazira to win against both of them means they have the quality to go all the way to the end" in the Asian Champions League (ACL).

On March 7, in the first round of the competition, Nasaf led 2-0 in the first 20 minutes before Jazira scored four unanswered goals.

"We didn't have the experience and couldn't change our tactics to take advantage of that lead we built early in the game," Berdeiv said. "We have arrived better prepared and our objective would be to return with three points."

Caio Junior, who was appointed the day after that win as Jazira parted company with Franky Vercauteren, acknowledged Berdeiv's opinion by saying the Abu Dhabi club has a "big opportunity" to go all the way to the end.

Jazira's previous three appearances in the ACL ended at the group stage, but Caio Junior did not argue with Berdeiv's flattering assessment.

"Yes, this team has the quality to win the ACL," the Brazilian said. "Here is an opportunity."

Caio Junior will have a full squad at his disposal with the return of Lucas Neill, the Australia defender, and Khamis Ismail, the Emirati midfielder, both returning after sitting out a one-match ban in the 2-0 defeat to Al Ain in the Pro League on Friday.

Jazira will play in the single-elimination ACL round of 16 on May 22 or 23, and Caio Junior has emphasised the importance of the home match that would come with winning the group.

"To play on the home pitch would certainly give us the advantage and that would be our target against Nasaf," he said.

Also today, Baniyas attempt to improve their chances of qualifying out of Group B when they play at the bottom side Al Arabi of Qatar.

Baniyas are third in the group on five points, but a road victory against Al Arabi would keep alive their hopes of a top-two finish.

Baniyas defeated Al Arabi 2-0 in Abu Dhabi in March as Francisco Yeste and Yousuf Jaber scored.

Pakhtakor are home to leaders Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia tonight, and Baniyas get a home game against the Uzbek side on May 16.

apassela@thenational.ae

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