x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Braga aiming to go one better

The Brazilian coach hopes to guide Al Jazira through the group stages of the Asian Champions League.

Abel Braga says Al Jazira are better prepared for the Asian Champions League.
Abel Braga says Al Jazira are better prepared for the Asian Champions League.

ABU DHABI // Al Jazira's first appearance in the Asian Champions League (ACL) ended in disappointment last season, but Abel Braga, their coach, hopes to use the experience to turn their fortunes around when the group stage of the 32-team competition kicks off tonight.

"We are better prepared this time and our goal is to go beyond the group stage," said the Brazilian, whose team face the Qatar league champions, Al Gharafa, in Group A tonight at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. "When I look back at those results, I feel we missed out on a great chance, because two of the three teams from our group, Umm Salal [from Qatar] reached the semi-final and Al Ittihad [of Saudi Arabia] played in the final."

Jazira drew five of their six group matches, surrendering maximum points from winning positions in two of those games after leading by two goals, ironically against Umm Salal and Ittihad. "We are playing our first game at home and hopefully can get off to a good start," said Braga. "It is important to make use of the home advantage. Gharafa we all know are a strong team but we are ready for them." Braga has one injury problem with Rashid Abdulrahman, the central defender, still recovering from a leg injury.

"Any absence will be felt," added Braga. "When we have the No 1 player injured, we need to bring in the second best. And obviously we can't expect him to play as the No 1. Still, we have players who can do a decent job for us." Ricardo Oliveira and Rafael Sobis are set to spearhead the attack with Marcio Rozario marshalling the defence. Jazira's midfield has a solid look with Ibrahim Diaky pulling the strings along with Subait Khater, Abdulsalam Jumaa and Abdulla Mousa.

Caio Junior, who took charge of Gharafa in the summer, had similar ambitions of taking his team beyond the group stage, but admitted returning home with a point would also be a good result for his team. "To go beyond the group stage would be our priority as Gharafa haven't done that in four previous attempts," said the 44-year-old former Brazil international. "We are playing our first game away and are aware how strong our opponents are, but we will not change our attacking style of play against any team. We can adapt too and still play according to the situation on the pitch. And to return with a point will not be a bad result for us."

Gharafa's key players are Younus Mahmood, their Iraqi striker, and Juninho Pernambucano, the Brazilian dead-ball specialist, who signed from the French side Lyon last summer. The two other teams in the group are the two-time ACL champions Al Ahli, from Saudi Arabia, and Iran's Esteghlal, who face each other at the Prince Abdullah al Faisal Stadium tonight. Al Wahda, the Pro League leaders, face Zobahan of Iran in Group B (6pm). Haider Ali, the Wahda captain, was upbeat on his team's chances after they booked their place in the ACL following two play-off matches against Al Karamah of Syria and the Indian champions Churchill Brothers.

"We have had a good three weeks and the confidence is very high," said Haider. "We played six matches and won five, including the two ACL play-offs. We have a full squad and just want to go out there and win." apassela@thenational.ae