x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Al Wahda coach wants team to 'enjoy' themselves at Al Ain

The Croatian says it is a privilege for his depleted team to play against the league leaders and champions.

Asamoah Gyan was singled out for praise by Al Wahda coach Branko Ivankovic ahead of the match against Al Ain. Jeffrey E Bitteng / The National
Asamoah Gyan was singled out for praise by Al Wahda coach Branko Ivankovic ahead of the match against Al Ain. Jeffrey E Bitteng / The National

Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach, said last week Al Ain can be stopped only at a traffic light. That sentiment was seconded by Branko Ivankovic, the Al Wahda coach, ahead of their meeting with the champions tonight.

"They are the best team in the league with quality all around on the pitch," the Croatian said.

Plagued by injuries and suspensions, Ivankovic has attempted to take the pressure off his players, telling them to "enjoy the game" at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

Wahda will be without Ismail Matar, the captain and forward, and doubts surround Hamdan Al Kamali, the centre-back, after he missed two training sessions.

Adding to their woes is the one-match ban of Srdan Andric, the Croatian midfielder, for three yellow cards.

"This is the biggest game of the week but sadly we can't play our full team to show what we really can do," Ivankovic said. "Srdan's loss is a big handicap for us because I can't find anyone to play his role. Ismail will be out until January, which means he won't be available until the second half of the league.

"It is not a pressure game anymore for us. I have told my players to go out there soak in the atmosphere and do their best ... It is such a privilege for them to play against the best team in the league."

After three humiliating defeats, in which they conceded 14 goals, Wahda bounced back with a 3-0 home win against Al Dhafra in the last round.

"Al Ain have quality all around the pitch and it would be difficult to mark each and every player," said Ivankovic. "I don't like to talk about individual performances but [Asamoah] Gyan will be the player every team would want to keep a close tab on for the simple fact that no team has been able to stop him from scoring. And, more importantly, they have struck an excellent balance and that's what makes them so good."

Al Ain are on top of the table with 28 points, six more than their nearest challengers. Wahda are in sixth place on 18.

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, who saw his side easily overcome Baniyas 3-0 in their top-of-the-table clash last week, urged his team to guard against complacency.

"I don't want my players to get distracted by the comments of the others," the Romanian said. "We must never let our guard down against any opposition, and if we do we have to pay for it.

"Wahda may be without some of their key players but those who get the opportunity to play against us would certainly put more than 100 per cent to be on the spotlight.

"Our approach to this game would be as same as we have always been, that is to win."



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