x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Asian Champions League: Al Shabab's priorities are all in order

Coach Marcos Paqueta says Shabab has to be realistic in playing Wednesay's match at Iran against Esteghlal followed by a President's Cup final against Al Ahli and the end of the Pro League regular season around the corner.

Adel Abdulla, front, and his Al Shabab teammates dropped their Asian Champions League first leg match at home to Esteghlal 4-2, making the second leg at Tehran, Iran all the more difficult for the UAE side.
Adel Abdulla, front, and his Al Shabab teammates dropped their Asian Champions League first leg match at home to Esteghlal 4-2, making the second leg at Tehran, Iran all the more difficult for the UAE side.

With the President's Cup final less than a week away, Al Shabab's focus will be on keeping their players fresh and injury-free when they meet Esteghlal at the Azadi Stadium Wednesday night in Tehran.

Shabab will meet neighbours Al Ahli for the President's Cup crown on Tuesday.

Wednesday night's second leg of the Asian Champions League (ACL) last 16, along with their final Pro League game against Al Shaab on Saturday, will be minor distractions for Marcos Paqueta and his men. Shabab lost the first leg 4-2 at home to Esteghlal, and with little hope of overcoming that deficit, Paqueta said there is no real point in asking the players to exert themselves.

"Just two days after this match against Esteghlal, we meet Al Shaab in the final league match," Paqueta said. "And then just two days after that, we play Ahli in the final of the President's Cup, which is the most important match of the season for us.

"So our main objective will be to avoid stress and any injuries in these two upcoming matches. "We might have to rest some players because we are playing three matches in less than one week.

"So we will have to find the right balance. But of course, we will do everything we can to give a good impression. It is going to be a very difficult game, but we will try our best."

A goal down at the break in the first leg last Wednesday, Esteghlal showed their quality with four goals in the second half to virtually seal the fate of the two-match clash.

The Iranian league champions boast a number of national team stars such as Mehdi Rahmati, Javad Nekounam and Farhad Majidi, and former England Under 21 and Aston Villa defender Jlloyd Samuel.

Given the quality in Esteghlal's squad, Paqueta said Shabab fans should hold no illusions.

And the Brazilian also pointed to the intimidating atmosphere that awaits his players at the Azadi Stadium. On their last visit to the Tehran fortress - in the ACL last year - Shabab were drubbed 6-1 by Persepolis.

"Nothing is impossible in football, but we have to be realistic," said Paqueta.

"Esteghlal have eight players in the Iranian national team and they will be playing at home, with all their supporters. So to beat such a strong team, on their home ground, by more than three goals is a really difficult task.

"The Champions League was not one of our priorities, but through the effort of the players we were able to reach the round of 16 for the first time in the club's history. The players will certainly benefit from this experience, and if we return to Asia next season, we will be better prepared and provide a much better performance.

"For now, we need to take the positives from this campaign and work on eliminating the negatives for next season."

While Shabab's coach may have virtually given up on their chances, his counterpart at Esteghlal, Amir Ghalenoei, has warned his players against complacency.

"We have only finished half the task," said the Esteghlal coach. "If the players take the pitch thinking they have already won, they will lose focus and that could be dangerous.

"So we need to forget about the first leg and make sure we win this game as well."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

 

AL WASL-BANIYAS MATCH MOVED TO MONDAY

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