x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Asian Champions League: Al Nasr step into unknown against Uzbeks

Al Nasr coach Walter Zenga concedes he has little information about opposition, Lokomotiv Tashkent

Al Nasr coach Walter Zenga has conceded technical advantage to Lokomotiv Tashkent.
Al Nasr coach Walter Zenga has conceded technical advantage to Lokomotiv Tashkent.

DUBAI // Walter Zenga concedes he has little information about Al Nasr's opponents in tonight's Champions League play-off at 8pm, but the Italian is confident his team will win and take their place in the group stages of the continental championship.

Lokomotiv Tashkent, third in the Uzbekistan league last season, are making their first appearance in the Champions League, but they have not played any official matches since November 21, the last day of the Uzbek season.

Lokomotiv have made several personnel changes during the break and Zenga said he does not have "a lot of details about the way they play or about the players".

"It's going to be a tough and complicated match," the Nasr coach said. "We don't have enough information about the opponent. Unfortunately, the team has changed a lot since they played their last official match.

"On the other hand, Lokomotiv have actually seen a lot of our matches. They have studied Al Nasr quite well, so in the technical side, they have an advantage.

"But I have full confidence in my players and I am sure they will play a big match. In the last two years, they have really shown they are an excellent team with excellent skills. They have given some great performances.

"They know winning this match will get them into the group stages of the Champions League and that will be proof of all the hard work that has been done over the last two years."

Having finished second in the Pro League last season, it was widely assumed Nasr would get direct entry into the group stages of the Champions League for a second successive year. However, the UAE's representation in the 2013 championship was reduced following an assessment by the Asian Football Confederation.

Last year, the Pro League had three direct entries and one play-off berth; this time, it is two direct entries and two play-off berths.

"We thought we would qualify directly to the group stages," Zenga said. "But we wake up one morning to discover that we need to play one extra game to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.

"For me, that is very strange. If you are second in your league, you should be playing the Champions League. We made a great effort for that second. But if we have to play this game, we play. No problem.

"I have full trust in my players and I will play those who are 100 per cent physically and mentally. Our focus is on playing a great game and we hope our efforts will bear fruits."

Mahmoud Hassan, representing the Nasr players at yesterday's pre-match news conference, echoed his coach's words.

"We may not have a lot of information about Lokomotiv, but we will apply the coach's instructions and directions during the game," the Nasr defender said. "We know we have only option and that is to win."

Lokomotiv, who were relegated to the second division after the end of the 2010 season, achieved their best finish in the league on their return in 2012, finishing behind Pakhtakor and Bunyodkor.

Ravshan Muqimov, the coach, has played a big part in their turnaround and he sounded confident of keeping Lokomotiv's successful run going. "It is a very important match for the club," he said. "This is our first time in Asia and this match will decide whether we qualify for the group stages or not. So the players are really determined. We are ready and we will show our game tomorrow."

Al Shabab are the second UAE team in the Champions League play-offs. They face Saba Qom in Iran today. "It is going to be a really tough game, but we are determined to keep our winning streak going and make it to the group stages of Asia," said Marcos Paqueta, the Shabab coach whose team is on a 10-match unbeaten streak in domestic competitions.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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