x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Caio Junior challenges Pro League sides to make progress in ACL

The Al Jazira coach hoping a UAE side can make it out of the Asian Champions League group stages for the first time since 2007.

Caio Junior wants to see an improved showing from Al Jazira in the Asian Champions League.
Caio Junior wants to see an improved showing from Al Jazira in the Asian Champions League.

Al Jazira's new Brazilian coach yesterday declared that "now is the time" for a Pro League side to make a deep run in the Asian Champions League, and his team, as well as Baniyas, will be attempting tonight to build on opening game victories.

Jazira are at home to Al Rayyan of Qatar and Baniyas are away to the Ubzek side Pakhtakor as group play in the continental championship resumes.

Tomorrow, Al Nasr play host to the Qatar Stars League leaders Lekhiwiya and Al Shabab travel to Tehran to meet Persepolis, the most decorated Iran club. Nasr lost in the first round, and Shabab drew.

No UAE club have survived the ACL group stage since Al Wahda in 2007. Jazira won only one of 18 matches in the three previous stagings of the tournament.

"Now is the time for one team from the UAE to do a great campaign in the Champions League," Jazira's Caio Junior said yesterday. "For me, there is no difference between Qatar, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia."

He said that when he was at the Qatar club Al Gharafa in 2010: "I was very close to reaching the final of this competition, and last year Al Sadd won the competition. I will do my best to make my [Jazira]players believe that we have the possibility to make that progress."

Jazira erased a 2-0 deficit to win 4-2 at Nasaf Qarshi, in Uzbekistan, two weeks ago, but Caio Junior replaced Franky Vercauteren as coach one day later.

He said he is returning the Pro League champions to the Brazilian style of play they embraced during the three seasons when Abel Braga was the coach.

"When I came, I found a group who were not feeling happy," Caio Junior said of his players. "Now the happiness is back."

He added: "Jazira played three years within a tactical philosophy of a Brazilian coach, and then they changed the coach. … It doesn't mean the former coach didn't work well, it meant he could not implement his system in the proper time. Now, back to the Brazilian school; it's simpler for the players to understand what we mean."

In the 2010 ACL, Caio Junior's Al Gharafa finished top of Group A, twice defeating Jazira, who were bottom of the group. They reached the quarter-finals before losing to Al Hilal 5-4 on aggregate.

Al Rayyan arrived in Abu Dhabi just days after losing to Esteghlal, and Diego Aguirre, their Uruguayan coach, said they cannot afford another defeat.

"Jazira are very strong, we know that," Aguirre said. "But this is like a final for us; we must get some points."

Baniyas were 2-0 winners over Al Arabi of Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, and tonight play a Pakhtakor side who won their league opener last week. Gabriel Calderon's club will be reinforced by the return of several UAE Olympic team members, including Ahmed Ali, Haboush Saleh and Mohammed Fawzi, who played in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent just six days ago.

However, Baniyas will play without the injured Amer Abdulrahman and the Spaniard Francisco Yeste.

Pakhtakor lost 4-0 to the Saudi side Al Ittihad two weeks ago.

"Al Ittihad and Pakhtakor are the favourites to win the group, but we want to surprise everyone," Calderon said in Tashkent.

"We beat Al Arabi in the first match, but we now have some problems because it is cold and the condition of the pitch will be difficult. I have been to Uzbekistan several times before, but I have never experienced these conditions. We have had to train indoors and also on an artificial field."

Nasr lost to Iran's league leaders two weeks ago, and tomorrow face another difficult assignment against Lekhwiya, the runaway leaders in Qatar's league. Nasr have encountered a rough patch of late, having lost 1-0 last week to Dubai, who at the time were at the bottom of the Pro League table.

Walter Zenga, Nasr's Italian coach, will be looking to the former Serie A stalwarts Luca Toni and Mark Bresciano for goals as they play their first ACL match in Maktoum Stadium.

Shabab are unbeaten in their past eight matches, including five victories, and while any match in Tehran is difficult, they meet a Persepolis side who are a modest eighth in the Iran table.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae