x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Al Wahda coach wants ‘winning mindset’

Branko Ivankovic believes hard work and dedication will compensate after exit of four big-name players from UAE Pro League club.

Hamdan Al Kamali, part of UAE's Olympic team, is back at Al Wahda after a spell in France. Stu Forster / Getty Images
Hamdan Al Kamali, part of UAE's Olympic team, is back at Al Wahda after a spell in France. Stu Forster / Getty Images

Despite losing several senior players in the summer, Branko Ivankovic is confident Al Wahda can challenge for a trophy this season.

Haider Ali, the captain, Omar Ali, the defender, and Mutaz Abdullah, the goalkeeper, all left for Emirates, while, Yaqoub Al Hosani, the 24-year-old midfielder, who had just broken into the national team, was signed by Al Ain.

Wahda, who finished sixth in the Pro League last season, also released the Brazilian trio of Fernando Baiano, Hugo and Magrao, who were pivotal to their 2009/10 Pro League title victory.

It leaves the Croatian manager with an inexperienced squad, but, having overseen his players for more than a month and watched them in seven friendlies, Ivankovic believes Wahda are on the right track.

"They have progressed well and I am confident they will improve further before the start of the season so much so that we can enter every competition with a winning mindset," he said.

"We will compensate the lack of experience of this squad with hard work, dedication and ambition. I am very happy with the progress of this squad and the outcome of every match we have played so far.

"It is not the ideal time to play games but we were able achieve some of our objectives to experiment different combinations and some good things come out of every game we played. Of course there are areas we need to work more and we will do that in the camp in Germany.

"I have seen a lot of improvement after every game, whether it is in attack or defence. The players have absorbed the ideas and plans, and understand what is required from them."

Wahda finished second behind Al Nasr of Saudi Arabia in the four-team friendly tournament they recently hosted. They lost 4-1 to Nasr before bouncing back with victories over Al Riffa of Bahrain 3-2 and Al Nahda of Oman 1-0.

"The friendly tournament was to experiment different combinations and provide opportunities. We can take a lot of positives forward from these games," Ivankovic said.

According to him, the return of Hamdan Al Kamali from a six-month loan at Lyon, the French Ligue 1 club, will be a major boost.

The UAE international will partner Anas Bani Yaseen, the Jordan international, at centre-back, allowing Eisa Ahmed, who deputised in the absence of Al Kamali, to move to his preferred right-back position.

"The defence is more solid with Hamdan and Anas, and we also have plenty of options around them," Ivankovic said.

"We have been a bit wasteful with the chances we created in the friendlies and this is an important area that we will work on during the next phase of the training. We will get that right before the start of the season."

Wahda had been training almost every day for more than a month under the harsh summer weather. They have assembled a 41-player squad to leave for Germany tomorrow and return on September 11.

Since the summer exodus, Wahda have gone about rebuilding the team. A host of youth players have been elevated to the first team and management moved swiftly to sign the Ivankovic as coach on a two-year deal.

They also moved early to complete their quartet of foreign players, recruiting - strikers Eric Mouloungui (Gabon), and Papa Waigo (Senegal), defensive midfielder Srdan Andric (Croatia) and Bani Yaseen, who replaces Mohammed Shaibah, the Omani defender who spent the season on loan from Al Wasl last term.

apassela@thenational.ae

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