x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Asian Champions League: Walter Zenga bullish on Al Nasr's chances against last year's finalists

Walter Zenga wants his Al Nasr players to stay confident and show courage as they meet star-studded Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Al Nasr head coach Walter Zenga likes his club's chances against Saudi Arabia powerhouse Al Ahli.
Al Nasr head coach Walter Zenga likes his club's chances against Saudi Arabia powerhouse Al Ahli.

DUBAI // Walter Zenga has called on his players to show confidence and courage as Al Nasr meet the Saudi Arabian powerhouses Al Ahli in their second match of this year's Asian Champions League.

Ahli, winners of two domestic titles last season and runners-up in the 2012 Asian Champions League, have enjoyed a good run against teams from the UAE in the two appearances they have made on the continental stage since the tournament was relaunched in 2009.

In 2010, they defeated Al Jazira 5-1 and 2-0 despite finishing third in their group.

Last year, they beat Nasr 2-1 and 3-1 in the group stages, and then went on to knock Jazira out of the competition with a 4-2 win via penalties in the last 16.

However, the Italian is confident his Nasr team can end Ahli's successful run against teams from the UAE in Wednesday night's game.

"The scenario this time is completely different and you cannot compare last year to this year," Zenga said. "If you look at the squad list, you will see that a lot has changed since last year.

"Of course, we know we are facing a team who reached the final of the Champions League last season.

"They are a big team with a lot of experience.

"We are hearing a lot about their players like Bruno Cesar, Victor Simoes and Jairo Palomino, but in my opinion their captain Taisir Al Jassim is an exceptional player with a lot of skills.

"Any team would like to have such a player.

"But at the same time, I also have some great, talented Emirati players. Yesterday in training, my advice to them was to show confidence and courage in the game and play at their best. You have to respect the opponent, but we should not feel inferior to any opponent we face."

Ahli, who beat Al Gharafa 2-0 in their opening game, have racked up a 13-match unbeaten streak in the Saudi league, but they are still fourth in the points table, 13 behind the leaders Al Fateh.

The club became unhappy with their results and dismissed their coach Karel Jarolim on March 1. This came just two days after Ahli's impressive win over Gharafa and the club's former coach Aleksandar Ilic was brought back to lead the team.

This is the first time Ilic has led Ahli in Asia, but the Serbian is confident he is ready for the match.

"We respect our opponents and as a coach, I am expecting a difficult game," Ilic said.

"They have several players who, through their performance, have made this team a strong unit.

"We are playing against one great team and we have a chance to prove our quality so I am hoping we are going to put up a good performance.

"We reached the final last year, so we have an obligation to go as far as possible in the competition this year. That is why this game against Nasr is very important. If we do a good job, I believe we will move very close to the round of 16."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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